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Full text of "Americans"

AMERICANS 



AMERICANS 



BY 

STUART P. SHERMAN 

AUTHOR OF " MATTHEW ARNOLD," " ON CONTEMPORARY LITERATURE," ETC. 



J 



NEW YORK 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 

1922 



COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY 
CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 



Printed in the United States of America 



Published November, 1922 




TO 
R. M. S. 



2033108 



PREFACE 

If this book fulfils in any degree the intention of 
its author, its tendency will be to encourage readers 
to keep open the channels of their national traditions 
and to scrutinize contemporary literature in the light 
of their national past. I am aware of the current 
feeling that no national past will bear scrutiny. At 
the present time, there appears to be no "popular" 
nation anywhere in the world, and the feelings with 
which many people regard any encouragement of 
"nationalistic sentiment," either at home or abroad, 
are as curiously mixed as those which the ancients 
entertained towards the daughter of Tyndareus, 
that beautiful and dangerous woman whose fame 
has outlasted all their empires. 

The old bard Stesichorus, we are told, for 
reviling Helen was stricken blind; but he after 
wards "unsaid all the evil he had sung of her," and 
accepted a legendary account according to which 
Helen was never actually in Troy but only her 
phantasm, while she herself, miraculously trans 
ported to Egypt, there awaited the return of her 
lord. Euripides based his Helen upon this story. 

Virgil's treatment of the character exhibits the 
same sense of a perilous impiety in any attempt to 

vii 



viii PREFACE 

molest her. During the sack of Troy, while Aeneas 
was wandering desperately among the flaming relics 
of his city, he espied the seductive cause of all that 
woe, cowering on the threshold of a temple, a silent, 
terror-stricken fugitive. To the beauty that had 
launched a thousand ships his anguish made him 
blind. The smoke of a world in ruins smarted in his 
eyes. Hot wrath possessed him. Though he knew 
there was no glory to be had from slaying a woman, 
it seemed to him "very stuff of the conscience" to end 
that hateful life. He clutched his sword. In the 
instant, his divine mother appeared to him, stayed 
his hand, and assured him that the real cause of 
the war was not Helen but the inclementia divum, 
the merciless will of the gods. 

Many intellectuals look malignly upon nation 
alism as the baleful Helen of our recent interna 
tional disaster. Through the smoke of the conflict 
they thought they heard an angel with vials of 
wrath crying: "There shall be no more flags 1" As 
an act of the higher piety, holding nothing sacred 
which is less than Humanity, they dedicated them 
selves to the destruction in themselves and in others 
of all those complex beliefs and emotions which 
the waving flag of one's land stirs in the heart of 
the ordinary man. The war multiplied the number 
of refined young liberals, American, English, 
Jewish, French, Italian, who in the confidences of 
the midnight hour, aflame with the "higher piety," 



PREFACE ix 

conscientiously spit upon what they would call the 
time-dishonored notion that, in certain circum 
stances, it is sweet and beautiful to die for one's 
country. In order to become men, in the higher 
sense of the word, our disillusioned youth imagine 
they must slay the thing they loved they must cease 
to be Americans. 

It was about the year 1917 that I began to 
meditate rather frequently upon the relation be 
tween civilization and the existence of separate 
nationalities, national traditions, national senti 
ments, and the national literatures through which 
the life of vanished generations survives as a 
living power among the powers of the present day. 
That sense for Humanity above all nations, which 
was quickened by certain appeals of the war, it 
seemed to me that every intelligent man must 
applaud, and must desire to strengthen. Senti 
ments which interfered with the growth of this 
sense, I thought, should be suppressed, and sacri 
fices which must be made for the extension of it 
should be courageously offered. An inflamed and 
egotistical nationalism appeared to me, as to so 
many others, the prime cause of the world's 
catastrophe. 

And yet if even for a moment it occurred to me 
that true citizenship in "the country of all intelli 
gent beings" might necessitate the sacrifice of one's 
essential Americanism and the use of the knife at 



x PREFACE 

the root of all fond sentiments related to it, in that 
instant there came to me, as if in a vision, our 
"divine mother," the spirit of America as the clear- 
eyed among our poets and statesmen have seen her, 
assuring me that the higher piety demands no such 
immolation. That which we have loved in our 
country, she declared, that which we have honored 
in her, that which reveals her to our hearts as 
proudly beautiful is in no way dangerous to 
Humanity. On the contrary, the more deeply we 
loved the true constituent elements of her loveli 
ness, the more clearly we understood her inmost 
purposes and set ourselves to further them, the 
more perfectly we should find ourselves in accord 
with the "friends of mankind" in all nations. 

Shall we shun music because we know that 
barbaric music arouses the cave-man in us and sets 
the pulses throbbing, the feet dancing, to the 
"blood-lust song" forgetting that music of 
another sort, seizing upon these same impression 
able quivering senses of ours, may masteringly 
attune us to the most harmonious impulses of our 
nature? Because we fear the tom-toms shall we 
smash the cathedral organ? All things which have 
great power are greatly dangerous till they are con 
trolled to right ends; but they are not more 
dangerous than weak things put in a place where 
strength is required. At the present moment the 
isolated individuals and scattered bands of pale- 



PREFACE xi 

browed intellectuals striving to realize at once "the 
federation of the world" by the renunciation of 
their nationalities these are weak things where 
great strength is required. 

The most powerful instruments yet existing in the 
world for the destruction of international order 
are the nations ; yet they are still the most powerful 
instruments for creating it. The most powerful 
agents for the corruption of the world's civilization 
are corrupt national civilizations; yet they are still 
the most powerful redemptive agents. Power is 
the good which the world craves. We cannot 
afford to waste it or to turn away from it. The 
friends of Humanity will make less progress by 
attempting to destroy the national spirit than by 
criticizing it and purifying it, and by seizing upon 
and fostering those elements in it which are truly 
humane. With this program in mind no wise 
student of the national past will be an indis- 
criminating upholder of traditions. While seeking 
to conserve their vital energy, he will steadily 
subject their direction to a critical scrutiny in the 
best light of his own time. 

The studies in this book, though originally pub 
lished separately as occasion offered, all had their 
origin in a fresh interest in American life and let 
ters, which has strengthened side by side with a 
strengthening interest in the cause of those young 
men to whom the war brought a new vision of the 



xii PREFACE 

old Humanitas. Some years ago, while preparing 
a book on Matthew Arnold, I found in his letters 
a passage which I read with pleasure and envy. It 
was written when he was putting together the first 
volume of his Essays In Criticism: "I think the 
moment is, on the whole, favorable for the Essays ; 
and in going through them I am struck with the 
admirable riches of human nature that are brought 
to light in the group of persons whom they treat, 
and the sort of unity that as a book to stimulate the 
better humanity in us the volume has." The 
"admirable riches of human nature" are, I am 
sure, also present in my group of Americans, and 
something I hope of this unity, may also be found 
here. 

For permission to reprint these revised essays 
acknowledgments are due as follows: to the New 
York Times Book Review for the Mr. Mencken 
And The New Spirit In Letters', to the Bookman 
for Tradition', to G. P. Putnam's Sons for the 
essay on Franklin from The Cambridge History 
Of American Literature', to Harcourt, Brace, and 
Co. for the essay on Emerson from my edition of 
Essays And Poems Of Emerson', to Charles 
Scribner's Sons for the Hawthorne and the Walt 
Whitman from my editions of The Scarlet Letter 
and Leaves Of Grass in the Modern Student's 
Library; to G. P. Putnam's Sons for the bio 
graphical essay on Joaquin Miller from a forth- 



PREFACE xiii 

coming collective edition of Miller's poems; to the 
newly erected Step Ladder for the Note on Carl 
Sandburg-, to The New York Nation for the essays 
on Carnegie, Roosevelt, and the Adamses; and to 
the Weekly Review for An Imaginary Conversa 
tion with Mr. P. E. More. 

S. P. S. 



CONTENTS 

PAGE 

L MR. MENCKEN, THE JEUNE FILLE, AND THE 

NEW SPIRIT IN LETTERS I 

II. TRADITION.. IT 

\ 

III. FRANKLIN AND THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT 28 

IV. THE EMERSONIAN LIBERATION 63 

V. HAWTHORNE: A PURITAN CRITIC OF PURI 
TANISM 122 

VI. WALT WHITMAN 153 

'VII. JOAQUIN MILLER: POETICAL CONQUISTADOR 

OF THE WEST 186 

VIII. A NOTE ON CARL SANDBURG 239 

IX. ANDREW CARNEGIE 246 

X. ROOSEVELT AND THE NATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 256 

XI. EVOLUTION IN THE ADAMS FAMILY 288 

XII. AN IMAGINARY CONVERSATION WITH MR. 

P. E. MORE 316 



MR. MENCKEN, THE JEUNE FILLE, AND 
THE NEW SPIRIT IN LETTERS 

A woman whose husband has made money in the 
war likes to have her portrait painted and her 
friends coming in to admire it. So a new public, 
grown conscious of itself, demands a new literature 
and a new literature demands a new criticism. Fine 
gentlemen with a touch of frost above the temples, 
sitting at ease in quiet old clubs under golden-brown 
portraits of their ancestors, and turning the pages 
of the AtheneBum or Mr. More's Nation, have seen 
with disdainful yet apprehensive glance through 
plate-glass windows the arrival of all three: the 
formation of a reading public of which they are not 
a part, the appearance of a literature which they do 
not care to read, the development of a criticism in 
which their views are not represented. Since a critic 
is of no importance except with reference to what 
he criticizes, you will please bear with me while I 
bring in the new literature and the new readers. 
When the stage is properly set, Mr. Mencken will 
appear. 

How shall one indicate the color and spirit of 

l 



2 AMERICANS 

it? this new public now swarming up the avenues 
of democratic opportunity; becoming prosperous, 
self-conscious, voluble; sunning itself in the great 
cities; reaching out greedily to realize its "legiti 
mate aspirations." This latest generation of Amer 
icans, so vulgar and selfish and good-humored and 
sensual and impudent, shows little trace of the once 
dominant Puritan stock and nothing of the Puritan 
temper. It is curiously and richly composed of the 
children of parents who dedicated themselves to 
accumulation, and toiling inarticulately in shop and 
field, in forest and mine, never fully mastered the 
English definite article or the personal pronoun. It 
is composed of children whose parents or grand 
parents brought their copper kettles from Russia, 
tilled the soil of Hungary, taught the Mosaic law 
in Poland, cut Irish turf, ground optical glass in 
Germany, dispensed Bavarian beer, or fished for 
mackerel around the Skagerrack. The young peo 
ple laugh at the oddities of their forbears, discard 
the old kettles, the Mosaic Law, the provincial dia 
lect, the Lutheran pastor. Into the new society 
breaking without cultural inheritance, they derive 
all their interests and standards from their imme 
diate environment, and gravitate towards refinement 
through more and more expensive gratifications of 
the senses. 

The prettiest type of this swift civilization and 
I must have something pretty to enliven a discourse 
on current criticism the prettiest type is the jeune 



MR. MENCKEN 3 

fille, who, to modernize the phrase of an old poet, 
aspires to a soul in silken hosiery and doeskin boots. 
She springs, this young creature with ankles 
sheathed and shod like a Virginia deer ankles 
whose trimness is, aesthetically speaking, quite the 
finest thing her family has produced in America 
she springs from a grandmother who clumped out 
in wooden shoes to milk a solitary cow in Sweden. 
She has no soul, the young thing, but she trusts that 
the tailor, the milliner, the bootmaker, the mani 
curist, the hairdresser, and the masseuse can give 
her an equivalent. Wherever art can work on her 
surfaces, she is finished. When the car is at the 
door in the morning "a distinctive body on a distin 
guished chassis" and she runs down the steps with 
somewhat more than a flash of her silken perfec 
tions, she is exquisite, what though the voice is a bit 
hard and shrill with which she calls out, "H'lo, 
kiddo! Le's go't Brentano's." 

She is indeed coming the new reader ! She will 
bring home an armful of magazines, smelling deli- 
ciously of the press, books with exciting yellow jack 
ets, plays newly translated and imported, the latest 
stories, the most recent ideas, all set forth in the 
current fashion, and all, as it will seem to her, about 
herself, her sort of people, her sort of world, and 
about the effort which her fair young ego is making 
to emerge from the indiscriminated mass and to ac 
quire physical form and line congruous with that 
"distinctive body mounted on a distinguished 



4 AMERICANS 

chassis," which bears her with such smooth speed up 
Riverside Drive. She will have no American litera 
ture of the "classical period" in her library; for the 
New England worthies who produced it wrote be 
fore the public of which she is a part began to read 
or to be noticed in books. The jeune file, though a 
votary of physical form, feels within herself an ex 
hilarating chaos, a fluent welter, which Lowell and 
Longfellow and James and Howells do not, but 
which her writers must, express. 

Therefore, she revels in the English paradoxers 
and mountebanks, the Scandinavian misanthropes, 
the German egomaniacs, and, above all, in the later 
Russian novelists, crazy with war, taxes, hunger, 
anarchy, vodka, and German philosophy. She does 
enjoy, however, the posthumous pessimism of Mark 
Twain it is "so strong and virile"; and she relishes 
his pilot oaths they are "so sincere and unconven 
tional." She savors Mr. Masters' hard little natu 
ralistic sketches of "passion" on Michigan Boule 
vard; they remind her of her brother. Sherwood 
Anderson has a place on her shelves ; for by the note 
of revolt in Winesburg, Ohio she recognizes one 
of her own spirit's deserted villages. Lured by a 
primitive instinct to the sound of animals roving, 
she ventures a curious foot into the fringes of the 
Dreiserian wilderness vast and drear; and barbaric 
impulses in her blood "answer the wail of the 
forest." She is not much "intrigued" by the frosty 
fragilities of imagist verse ; but at Sandburg's viking 



MR. MENCKEN 5 

salute to the Hog-Butcher of the World she claps 
her hands and cries: "Oh, boy, isn't it gorgeous!" 
This welter of her "culture" she plays, now and 
then, at organizing on some strictly modern prin 
ciple, such as her father applies to his business, such 
as her brother applies to his pleasures a principle 
of egotistical combat, a principle of self-indulgence, 
cynical and luxurious. She is not quite happy with 
the result. Sometimes, I imagine, she wishes that 
her personal attendants, those handmen and maid 
ens who have wrought so wonderfully with her sur 
faces, could be set at work upon her interior, so that 
her internal furnishing and decoration could be 
brought into measurable concord with the grace and 
truth of her contours, the rhythm of her hair. 

Imagine a thousand jeunes piles thus wistful, and 
you have the conditions ready for the advent of a 
new critic. At this point enters at a hard gallop, 
spattered with mud, H. L. Mencken high in oath 
thus justifying the Goethean maxim: Aller Anfang 
ist schwer. He leaps from the saddle with sabre 
flashing, stables his horse in the church, shoots the 
priest, hangs the professors, exiles the Academy, 
burns the library and the university, and, amid the 
smoking ashes, erects a new school of criticism on 
modern German principles, which he traces through 
Spingarn to Goethe, but which I should be inclined 
to trace rather to Eckermann. 

Of my own inability to interpret modern Ger 
many, however, I have recently been painfully re- 



6 AMERICANS 

minded by an 86-page pamphlet sent to me from 
Hamburg, with blue-pencil marks kindly inserted by 
the author, one Hansen apparently a German- 
Schleswigian-American who has studied rhetoric in 
Mr. Mencken's school inquiring what the masses 
can possibly know of the real Germany, "so long as 
the Shermans squat like toads in the portals of the 
schools and the Northcliffes send their Niagaras of 
slime through the souls of the English-speaking peo 
ples." I was amused, of course, to find a great lord 
of the press so quaintly bracketed with an obscure 
teacher of literature in a Middle Western univer 
sity as an effective obstacle between the sunlight and 
Germany. All the same, my conscience was touched; 
and I remembered with satisfaction that, on the 
appearance of Mr. Mencken's Prefaces, I made 
a conscientious effort to tell my countrymen where 
they should go, namely, to Mr. Mencken, if they 
desired a really sympathetic presentation of the 
modern Teutonic point of view with reference to 
politics, religion, morals, women, beer, and belles- 
lettres. 

On the appearance of Mr. Mencken's new vol 
ume, Prejudices continuing my humble service as 
guide to what I am not thoroughly qualified to 
appreciate I can only say that here I find again 
the Nietzschean "artistocrat" of yesteryear, essen 
tially unchanged. He is a little sadder, perhaps, 
since democracy has unhorsed the autocrats; but his 
skepticism of democracy is unshaken. He is a shade 



MR. MENCKEN 7 

more cynical since the extension of women's suffrage; 
but he is as clear as ever that he knows what girls 
were made for. He is a little more sober since the 
passage of the national prohibition act, and a bit 
less lyrical about the Pilsener-motive in the writings 
of Mr. Huneker; but, come rain come shine, he still 
points with pride to a digestion ruined by alcohol. 
In other respects, former patrons of his school for 
beautifying American letters will find his familiar 
manners and customs essentially unaltered. 

If we are to have a Menckenian academy, Mr. 
Mencken shows the way to set it up with vigor 
and rigor, with fist and foot, with club and axe. 
The crash of smashed things, the knocking of heads 
together, the objurgations which accompany his en 
trance have a high advertising value, fascinating to 
all the gamins of the press and attractive to our 
jeune fille, who will pay for a copy of Prejudices 
and form her taste upon it. And far be it from me to 
deny that she may learn something from her heavy- 
handed disciplinarian. Mr. Mencken, like most 
men, has his merits, of which it is a pleasure to 
speak. He is alive; this is a merit in a good man 
and hardly a defect even in a bad critic. He has 
a rough, prodding wit, blunted by thrusting at ob 
jects which it cannot pierce, but yet a wit. He is 
passionately addicted to scoffing; and if by chance a 
sham that is obnoxious to him comes in his way, he 
will scoff at a sham. He has no inclination to the 
softer forms of "slush" or to the more diaphanous 



8 AMERICANS 

varieties of "pishposh." He has a style becoming 
a retired military man hard, pointed, forcible, 
cocksure. He likes a sentence stripped of baggage, 
and groups of sentences that march briskly off at 
the word of command, wheel, continue to march, 
and, at word of command, with equal precision, 
halt. He has the merits of an efficient rhetorical 
drill-sergeant. By his services in pointing out to 
our fair barbarian that she need not, after all, read 
Mr. Veblen, she should acknowledge that he has 
earned the royalty on her copy of Prejudices. He 
has given her, in short, what she might expect to get 
from a stiff freshman course in rhetoric. 

When he has told her who fits sentences together 
well and who ill, he has ended the instruction that 
was helpful to her. He can give her lessons in 
derision, lessons in cynicism, lessons in contempt; 
but she was mistress of all these when she entered 
his school. He can offer to free her from attach 
ment to English and American literary traditions; 
but she was never attached to these traditions. He 
will undertake to make her believe that Baptists and 
Methodists, professors and academicians, prohibi 
tion societies and marriage covenants are ridiculous ; 
but she always thought them ridiculous. He is ready 
to impregnate her mind with the wisdom of "old 
Friedrich," Stirner, Strindberg, and the rest of the 
crew; but her mind is already impregnated with that 
sort of wisdom. "When one has turned away from 
the false and the soft and the silly," this is the ques- 



MR. MENCKEN 9 

tion she is asking, "where does one go to find true 
and beautiful things?" She has heard somewhere 
by chance, poor girl, that one who pursues truth and 
beauty is delivered from the grosser tyrannies of 
the senses, escapes a little out of the inner welter, 
and discovers serenity widening like a fair dawn in 
the mind, with a certain blitheness and amenity. 
This is aesthetic liberation. 

For one seeking aesthetic liberation there is a 
canon of things to be thought on which the world 
liest of sound critics, Sainte-Beuve, pronounced as 
clearly and insistently as Saint Paul. The Germans, 
as the great Goethe explained to the saucer-eyed 
Eckermann, are "weak on the aesthetic side." Aes 
thetic appreciation is superficially an affair of the 
palate, and at bottom an affair of the heart, embrac 
ing with elation whatsoever things are lovely. Mr. 
Mencken has no heart; and if he ever had a palate 
he has lost it in protracted orgies of literary "strong 
drink." He turns with anguish from the pure and 
simple flavors that please children as the first gifts 
of nature, and that delight great critics as the last 
achievements of art. His appetite craves a fierce 
stimulation of sauces, a flamboyance and glitter of 
cheeses, the sophisticated and appalling ripeness of 
wild duck nine days old. 

He devotes, for example, two pages to leading 
the jeune fille away from Emerson as a writer of 
no influence. He spends several more in showing 
her that Howells has nothing to say. He warns her 



10 AMERICANS 

that Mr. Garland's Son of the Middle Border is 
amateurish, flat, banal, and repellant. He gives a 
condescending coup de pied to the solider works of 
Arnold Bennett and singles out for intense admira 
tion a scarlet-lattice scene or so in his pot-boilers. 
As the author of a work on the American language, 
over-ambitiously designed as a wedge to split 
asunder the two great English-speaking peoples, 
and as an advocate of an "intellectual aristocracy," 
it has suddenly occurred to him that we have been 
shamefully neglecting the works of George Ade; 
accordingly, he strongly commmends to our younger 
generation the works of Mr. George Ade. But the 
high light and white flame of his appreciation falls 
upon three objects as follows: the squalid story of 
an atrocious German bar-maid by Sudermann; an 
anonymous autobiographical novel, discovered by 
Mr. Mencken himself, which exhibits "an eternal 
blue-nose with every wart and pimple glittering," 
and is "as devoid of literary sophistication as an 
operation for gallstones" ; and, third and last, the 
works of Mr. Mencken's partner, Mr. George Jean 
Nathan, with his divine knack at making phrases 
"to flabbergast a dolt." 

I imagine my bewildered seeker for aesthetic liber 
ation asking her mentor if studying these things will 
help her to form "the diviner mind." "Don't bother 
me now," exclaims Mr. Mencken; "don't bother me 
now. I am just striking out a great phrase. Aes 
thetic effort tones up the mind with a kind of high 



MR. MENCKEN 11 

excitement. I shall say in the next number of the 
Smart Set that James Harlan was the damnedest 
ass that America ever produced. If you don't know 
him, look him up. In the second edition of my book 
on the American language I shall add a new verb 
to Menckenize and perhaps a new noun, Mencken- 
ism. The definition of these words will clear up 
matters for you, and summarize my contribution to 
the national belles-lettres. It is beginning to take 
the spirit is beginning to spread." 

While Mr. Mencken and the jeune file are en 
gaged in this chat on the nature of beauty, I fancy 
the horn of a "high-powered" automobile is heard 
from the street before the Menckenian school. And 
in bursts Mr. Francis Hackett, looking like a man 
who has just performed a long and difficult opera 
tion under the body of his car, though, as a matter 
of fact, he has only just completed a splashing, shirt 
sleeve review for The New Republic. "Let's wash 
up," cries Mr. Hackett, stripping off his blouse of 
blue jeans, "and go out to luncheon." 

"Where shall we f res sen?" says Mr. Mencken. 

"At the Loyal Independent Order of United 
Hiberno - German -Anti - English -Americans," says 
Mr. Hackett. "All the New Critics will be there. 
Colum, Lewisohn, Wright, and the rest. I tried 
to get Philip Littell to come along. He's too gol 
darn refined. But I've got a chap in the car, from 
the West, that will please you. Used to run a 
column in the World's Greatest. Calls Thomas 



12 AMERICANS 

Arnold of Rugby 'that thrice-damned boor and 
noodle.' " 

"Good!" Mr. Mencken exclaims. "A Mencken- 
ism! A Menckenism! A likely chap!" And out 
they both bolt. 

The jeune fille, with a thoughtful backward 
glance at Mr. Hackett's blouse, goes slowly down 
into the street, and, strolling up the walk in the 
crisp early winter air, overtakes Mr. Littell, who is 
strolling even more slowly. He is reading a book, 
on which the first snowflake of the year has fallen, 
and, as it falls, he looks up with such fine delight in 
his eye that she asks him what has pleased him. 

"A thought," he replies gently, "phrased by a 
subtle writer and set in a charming essay by a fa 
mous critic. Listen: "Oil il n'y a point de delica- 
tesse, il n'y a point de litterature" 1 

"That's a new one on me," says the jeune fille. 



translated: "When one begins to Menckenize, the spirit of 
good literature flees in consternation." 



II 

TRADITION 

To lengthen the childhood of the individual, at 
the same time bringing to bear upon it the influences 
of tradition, is the obvious way to shorten the child 
hood of races, nations, classes, and so to quicken 
the general processes of civilization. Yet in the 
busy hum of self-approbation which accompanies 
the critical activities of our young people, perhaps 
the dominant note is their satisfaction at having 
emancipated themselves from the fetters of tradi 
tion, the oppression of classical precedent, the 
burden of an inherited culture. By detaching the 
new literature from its learned past they are confi 
dent that they are assuring it a popular future. 
Turn to any one of half a dozen books which dis 
cuss the present movement, and you will learn that 
people are now discovering, for example, "often to 
their own surprise," that they can read and enjoy 
poetry. That is because poetry has been subjected 
to "democratization." The elder writers, such as 
Shakespeare, Milton, Emerson, and Longfellow, 
constantly gravelled them with strange and obsolete 
phrases, like "multitudinous seas incarnadine," and 

13 



14 AMERICANS 

like "tumultuous privacy of storm." The ancient 
writers sent them to out-of-the-way reference books 
to look up obscure legends about Troy, not the city 
where collars are made, and old stuff about war in 
heaven, and the landing at Plymouth Rock. It is 
therefore a relief to countless eager young souls that 
Mr. Mencken has dismissed all this as "the fossil 
literature taught in colleges," and that Mary Austin 
insists that native verse rhythms must be "within the 
capacity of the democratically bred." It is a joy 
to hear from Mr. Untermeyer that modern readers 
of poetry may now come out from the "lifeless and 
literary storehouse" and use life itself for their 
glossary, as indeed they may or the morning's 
newspaper. 

Those who encourage us to hope for crops with 
out tillage, learning without study, and literary birth 
without gestation or travail are doubtless animated 
by a desire to augment the sum of human felicity; 
but one recalls Burke's passionate ejaculation: "Oh! 
no, sir, no. Those things which are not practicable 
are not desirable." To the new mode of procuring 
a literary renascence there may be raised one objec 
tion, which, to minds of a certain temper, will seem 
rather grave: all experience is against it. Such is 
the thesis recently argued by an English critic, Mr. 
H. J. Massingham, who reviews with mingled 
amusement and alarm the present "self-conscious 
rebellion against tradition." In the eyes of our ex 
cited young "cosmopolitans," whose culture has a 



TRADITION 15 

geographic rather than an historical extension, Mr. 
Massingham's opinions will of course appear to be 
hopelessly prejudiced by his Oxford breeding, his 
acquaintance with the classics, his saturation in 
Elizabethan literature, and his avowed passion for 
old books in early editions, drilled by the biblio 
maniac worm, "prehistoric" things, like Nares' 
Glossary and Camden's Remains. But it is not 
merely the opinion of our critic that is formidable: 
"The restoration of the traditional link with the 
art of the past is a conservative and revolutionary 
necessity." It is not the supporting opinion of Sir 
Joshua Reynolds : "The only food and nourishment 
of the mind of an artist is the great works of his 
predecessors." Sir Joshua, too, was prejudiced by 
his position as a pillar of the robust English classi 
cism of George Ill's time. It is not even the opin 
ion of Henry James, whom Mr. Massingham pro 
claims the profoundest critic since Coleridge, and 
who even our own irreverent youth seem to suspect 
should be mentioned respectfully : "It takes an end 
less amount of history to make even a little tradition 
and an endless amount of tradition to make even 
a little taste and an endless amount of taste, by the 
same token, to make even a little tranquillity." 

The formidable arguments against the radical 
engineers of renascence are just the notorious facts 
of literary history. The fact that a bit of the "fossil 
literature taught in colleges," the story of Arthur, 
written in Latin by a Welsh monk in the twelfth 



16 AMERICANS 

century, has flowered and fruited in poetry, paint 
ing, and music generation after generation pretty 
much over the civilized world. The fact that Chau 
cer and his contemporaries, in whom poetry had a 
glorious rebirth, had previously devoured every 
thing in what Mr. Untermeyer would call the 
"lifeless and literary storehouse" of the Middle 
Ages. The fact that the Elizabethans, to quote 
Mr. Massingham's vigorous phrase, flung them 
selves on tradition "like a hungry wolf, not only 
upon the classics but upon all the tradition open to 
them." The fact that Restoration comedy is simply 
a revival of late Caroline in the hands of men who 
had studied Moliere. The fact that the leaders of 
the new movement in the eighteenth century, when 
they wished to break from the stereotyped classi 
cism, did not urge young people to slam the door 
on the past, but, on the contrary, harked back over 
the heads of Pope and Dryden to the elder and 
more central tradition of Milton, Shakespeare, and 
Spenser; and sluiced into the arid fields of common 
sense, grown platitudinous, the long-dammed or 
subterranean currents of mediaeval romance. The 
fact that "Childe Harold," "Adonais," "The Eve 
of St. Agnes," "The Cotter's Saturday Night," and 
"The Castle of Indolence" were all written by imi 
tators of Spenser or by imitators of his imitators. 
The fact, to omit the Victorians, that Mr. W. B. 
Yeats, the most skilful living engineer of literary 
renascence, set all his collaborators to digging 



TRADITION 17 

around the roots of th'e ancient Celtic tree before 
we enjoyed the blossoming of the new spring in 
Ireland. The fact that John Masefield, freshest 
and most tuneful voice in England, is obviously 
steeped to the lips in the poetry of Byron, Shake 
speare, Spenser, and Chaucer. 

Why is it that the great poets, novelists, and 
critics, with few exceptions, have been, in the more 
liberal sense of the word, scholars masters of sev 
eral languages, students of history and philosophy, 
antiquarians? First of all because the great writer 
conceives of his vocation as the most magnificent 
and the most complex of crafts. He is to be his 
own architect, master-builder, carpenter, painter, 
singer, orator, poet and dramatist. His materials, 
his tools, his methods are, or may be, infinite. To 
him, then, the written tradition is a school and a 
museum in which, if he has a critical and inventive 
mind, he learns, from both the successes and the 
failures of his predecessors, how to set to work upon 
his own problems of expression. As Mr. Yeats is 
fond of pointing out, the young poet may find Her 
bert and Vaughan more helpful to him than the 
work of his own contemporaries, because the faults 
in the elder poets, the purple patches that failed to 
hold their color, will not attract and mislead him. 

But tradition is more than a school of crafts. It 
is a school of mood and manners. The artist who 
is also a scholar cannot fail to discover that what 
distinguishes all the golden periods of art, what 



18 AMERICANS 

constitutes the perpetual appeal of the masters, is a 
kind of innermost poise and serenity, tragic in 
Sophocles, heroic in Michelangelo, skeptical in 
Montaigne, idyllic in Sidney, ironic in Fielding. 
This enviable tranquillity reigns only in a mind that, 
looking before and after, feels itself the representa 
tive of something outlasting time, some national 
ideal, some religious faith, some permanent human 
experience, some endless human quest. Nothing 
begets this mood and manner, the sovereign mark 
of good breeding in letters, like habitual association 
with those who have it, the majority of whom are, 
in the vulgar sense of the word, dead. Izaak Wal 
ton, a minor writer in whose work there is a golden 
afterglow of the great age, calls, in one of his 
Angler's Dialogues, for "that smooth song which 
was made by Kit Marlowe, now at least fifty years 
ago," and for the answer to it "which was made 
by Sir Walter Raleigh in his younger days." If 
some of our modern imitators of the auctioneer and 
the steam calliope would now and then, instead of 
reading one another, step into the "lifeless and lit 
erary storehouse" and compare these "fossils" con 
scientiously with their own recent efforts to make 
verse popular! "They were old-fashioned poetry," 
says Piscator apologetically, "but choicely good, I 
think much better than the strong lines that are now 
in fashion in this critical age." 

Out of the tranquillity induced by working in a 
good literary tradition develops form. The clever 



TRADITION 19 

theorists who insist that form alone matters, that 
form is the only preservative element in literature, 
forget that form is not "self-begotten" but a prod 
uct of the formative spirit. Mr. Massingham is 
a bit fastidious in his use of this word. He denies 
form, for example, to Pope and to Swinburne. 
Though both have technique, that is another matter. 
"Form," he declares, "is a vision contained and 
made manifest." He attributes the unproductive 
ness of our age in the field of satire to a vision 
without a traditional base, reeling and shifting in 
the choppy waters of contemporary opinion. His 
remarks on the deficiencies of Gilbert Cannan as a 
satirist and novelist further elucidate his idea; and 
they may serve also as a comment upon many of 
the younger writers in America : 

The works of Mr. Cannan seem to say, "That is 
what life is a surge of base and beautiful forces, 
intensified in the consciousness of man." But that 
is a fallacy. Life is like that to the layman, but it 
is the business of the artist to see a clue in it, to 
give it shape and order, to weld its particles into 
congruity. Here is where his lack of a constructive 
or satiric purpose growing out of and controlling 
the material tells to his hurt. He knows life in the 
raw, but the satirist would put it in the oven and 
dish it up. So he wanders in the dark, and we 
blunder after him. But we want light, if it be only 
from a tallow candle. 

Now, many of the young writers in America are 
disposed to reject the English tradition as unservice- 



20 AMERICANS 

able lumber. They scorn equally the greater part 
of the American tradition as puritanical, effeminate, 
or over-intellectualized. If they seek foreign allies, 
it is with those who help them forget our national 
characteristics, our native bent and purposes, our 
discovered special American "genius." In what 
measure is the revolt due to the conduct of the move 
ment by writers whose blood and breeding are as 
hostile to the English strain as a cat to water? 
Whatever the answer, I suspect that the young peo 
ple who are being congratulated right and left on 
their emancipation from tradition are rather open 
to condolence than to felicitation. They have 
broken away from so much that was formative, and 
they suffer so obviously in consequence of the break. 
Their poets have lost a skill which Poe had: though 
they paint a little, and chant a little, and speak a 
great deal of faintly rhythmical prose, they have 
not learned how to sing. Their novelists have lost 
a vision which Howells had: though they have 
shaken off the "moralistic incubus" and have re 
leased their "suppressed desires," they have not 
learned how to conceive or to present a coherent 
picture of civilized society. Their leaders have lost 
a constructiveness which a critic so laden with ex 
plosives as Emerson exhibited: though they have 
blown up the old highways they have not made new 
roads. 

Am I doing the "young people" an injustice? I 
turn from their anthologies of verse, where I keep 



TRADITION 21 

searching in vain for such music as the angler's 
milkmaid sang; and from the novels of Mr. Cabell, 
in whom I have not discovered that ascending sun 
heralded by the lookouts; to A Modern Book of 
Criticism, recently collected and put forth by Mr. 
Ludwig Lewisohn. The editor's desire is to show 
us that "a group of critics, young men or men who 
do not grow old, are at work upon the creation of a 
civilized cultural atmosphere in America." The 
idea resembles that, does it not? of Mr. Waldo 
Frank, who recently informed us that literature 
began in America in 1900 or was it 1910? at 
Mr. Stieglitz's place in New York. It is related 
also to that recent comprehensive indictment edited 
by Mr. Harold Stearns and ironically entitled Civili 
zation in the United States. The implication is 
clearly that the country which developed Bradford, 
Franklin, Emerson, Lincoln, Thoreau, Whitman, 
Mark Twain, here and there in villages and back 
woods, had no "civilized cultural atmosphere" 
worth mentioning. It does not seem quite plausible. 
But let us proceed with Mr. Lewisohn. His 
critics: "Like a group of shivering young Davids 
slim and frail but with a glimpse of morning sun 
shine on their foreheads they face an army of 
Goliaths." The slim and shivering young Davids 
turn out on investigation to be Mr. Huneker, Mr. 
Spingarn, Mr. Mencken, Mr. Lewisohn, Mr. 
Hackett, Mr. Van Wyck Brooks, and Randolph 
Bourne. It is not a group, taken as a whole, how- 



22 AMERICANS 

ever it may be connected with the house of Jesse, 
which should be expected to hear any profound 
murmuring of ancestral voices or to experience any 
mysterious inflowing of national experience in medi 
tating on the names of Mark Twain, Whitman, 
Thoreau, Lincoln, Emerson, Franklin, and Brad 
ford. One doesn't blame our Davids for their in 
ability to connect themselves vitally with this line 
of Americans, for their inability to receive its tradi 
tion or to carry it on. But one cannot help asking 
whether this inability does not largely account for 
the fact that Mr. Lewisohn's group of critics are 
restless impressionists, almost destitute of doctrine, 
and with no discoverable unifying tendency except 
to let themselves out into a homeless happy land 
where they may enjoy the "colorful" cosmic weather, 
untroubled by business men, or middle-class Amer 
icans, or Congressmen, or moralists, or humanists, 
or philosophers, or professors, or Victorians, or 
Puritans, or New Englanders, or Messrs. Tarking- 
ton and Churchill. A jolly lot of Goliaths to slay 
before we get that "civilized cultural atmosphere." 
By faithfully studying the writings of Mr. 
Mencken, Mr. Lewisohn, and other "shivering 
young Davids," I have obtained a fairly clear con 
ception of what a "civilized cultural atmosphere" 
is not. It consists of none of those heart-remem 
bered things our own revenue officers probing our 
old shoes for diamond necklaces, our own New 
York newspapers, and Maryland chicken on the 



TRADITION 23 

Albany boat which cause a native American re 
turning from a year in Europe to exclaim as he sails 
up the tranquil bosom of the Hudson and rushes by 
a standard steel Pullman, back to the great warm 
embrace of his own land, "Thank Heaven, we are 
home again." No, it is none of these things. If, 
without going to Munich, you wish to know what a 
"civilized cultural atmosphere" really is, you must 
let Mr. Lewisohn describe it for you as it existed, 
till the passage of the Volstead act, in one or two 
odd corners of old New York: "The lamps of the 
tavern had orange-colored shades, the wainscoting 
was black with age. The place was filled with a 
soothing dusk and the blended odor of beer and 
tobacco and Wiener Schnitzel. / was, at least, back 
In civilization. That tavern is gone now, swept away 
by the barbarism of the Neo-Puritans." 

To the book from which this quotation is made, 
Mr. Lewisohn's recently published autobiographical 
record, Up Stream, students of contemporary criti 
cal currents and eddies are much indebted. The 
author, like many of the other belligerent young 
writers who have shown in recent years a grave 
concern for the state of civilization in America, has 
ostensibly been directing his attack against our na 
tional culture from a very elevated position. He 
has professed himself one of the enlightened spirits 
who from time to time rise above the narrowing 
prejudices of nationality into the free air of the 
republic of letters, the grand cosmopolis of the true 



24 AMERICANS 

humanist. From his watch-tower apparently "in 
the skies" he has launched lightnings of derision 
at those who still weave garlands for their Lares 
and Penates, at the nationalist with his "selective 
sympathies," at the traditionalist with his senti 
mental fondness for folk-ways. Those who feel 
strongly attracted, as I do myself, to the Ciceronian 
and Stoic conception of a universal humanity and by 
the Christian and Augustinian vision of a universal 
City of God, may easily have mistaken Mr. Lewi- 
sohn for a "sharpshooter" of the next age, an out 
post from the land of their heart's desire. But in 
Up Stream, Mr. Lewisohn drops the mask and re 
veals himself, for all his Jewish radicalism, 1 as 
essentially a sentimental and homesick German, 
longing in exile for a Germany which exists only in 
his imagination. 

Even the purified and liberated mind of a Child 
of Light, living according to nature and reason, is 
unable to rid itself wholly of "selective sympathies." 
It betrays under provocation a merely "traditional 



1 In a notably competent article on "The Case of Mr. Lewisohn," 
which appeared in The Menorah Journal of June, 1922, Professor 
Jacob Zeitlin writes : "Whether entirely just or strongly colored, 
it is evident that Mr. Lewisohn's criticism of State Universities 
has little relevance to his character as a Jew. It indicates nothing 
more than that his sensitive aesthetic organism recoiled in pain 
from an environment that was uncongenial. And the same obser 
vation holds concerning his reaction toward American life in gen 
eral. He but adds his voice to a chorus of growing volume, re 
iterating the now familiar burden of the crudeness and narrowness 
of our political and social ideas. There is ample ground for such 
a protest as he makes, but it is not a protest that can be identified 
with any recognizably Jewish outlook." 



TRADITION 25 

emotion" for a cultural atmosphere compounded of 
the odors of beer, tobacco, and Wiener Schnitzel, 
with perhaps a whiff of Kant and a strain of Hun 
garian music floating through it, while two or three 
high philosophical spirits discuss what a poet can do 
when his wife grows old and stringy. I do not think 
it necessary to remonstrate with a man merely be 
cause his affective nature responds powerfully to a 
vision of felicity thus composed; but I think it a bit 
impractical to ask "a nation of prohibitionists and 
Puritans" to accept this vision as the goal of cul 
tural efforts in America. It is a help to fruitful 
controversy, however, when a man abandons his 
absurdly insincere professions of "universal sympa 
thy" his purring protestation that he desires "nei 
ther to judge nor to condemn" and frankly admits 
that he likes the German life, what he knows of it, 
and that he regards American life, what he knows 
of it, as "ugly and mean." 

The militant hostility of alien-minded critics to 
wards what they conceive to be the dominant traits 
of the national character is, on the whole, to be 
welcomed as provocative of reflection and as a cor 
rective to national conceit. But the amendment of 
that which is really ugly and mean and basely re 
pressive in our contemporary society is less likely 
to be achieved by listening to the counsels of exiled 
emancipators from Munich than by harking back to 
our own liberative tradition, which long antedates 
the efforts of these bewildered impressionists. 



26 AMERICANS 

When we grow dull and inadventurous and sloth- 
fully content with our present conditions and our 
old habits, it is not because we are "traditionalists" ; 
it is, on the contrary, because we have ceased to feel 
the formative spirit of our own traditions. It is 
not much in the American vein, to be sure, to con 
struct private little anarchies in the haze of a 
smoking-room ; but practical revolt, on a large scale 
and sagaciously conducted, is an American tradition, 
which we should continue to view with courage and 
the tranquillity which is related to courage. Amer 
ica was born because it revolted. It revolted be 
cause it condemned. It condemned because its 
sympathies were not universal but selective. Its 
sympathies were selective because it had a vision 
of a better life, pressing for fulfilment. That vision, 
and not a conception of life as a meaningless "surge 
of base and beautiful forces" liberated its chief men 
of letters. Thence their serenity, in place of that 
"gentle but chronic dizziness" which a critic of 
Young Germany, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, says 
"vibrates among us." Thence, too, their freedom 
from ancestor-worship and bondage to the letter. 
Listen to Emerson: 

Ask not me, as Muftis can, 
To recite the Alcoran; 
Well I love the meaning sweet; 
I tread the book beneath my feet. 

Thence, too, the traditional bent of the American 
spirit toward modernity, toward realism. It was 



TRADITION 27 

nearly a hundred years ago that our then-leading 
critic wrote in his journal: "You must exercise your 
genius in some form that has essential life now; do 
something which is proper to the hour and cannot 
but be done." Did he not recognize what was to 
be done? I quote once more from him a finer sen 
tence than any of our impressionists has ever writ 
ten: "A wife, a babe, a brother, poverty, and a 
country, which the Greeks had, I have." The grip 
and the beauty of that simple sentence are due to 
a union in it of an Athenian vision with Yankee 
self-reliance. It is the kind of feeling that comes 
to a man who has lived in a great tradition. 



Ill 

FRANKLIN AND THE AGE OF 
ENLIGHTENMENT 

Americans who desire to know the breadth and 
humanity of their own traditions should give some 
days and nights to the study of the eighteenth cen 
tury, in which the minds of our colonial ancestors 
definitely turned from the problems of mediaeval 
theology to the assimilation of classical culture and 
to the practise of a rational philosophy. The civil 
izing force of even the English eighteenth century 
has been greatly neglected by English-speaking stu 
dents, in favor of the excitement and glamour 
offered by the Romantic Movement. But to the 
civilizing force of the American eighteenth century 
the present generation is for assignable reasons sin 
gularly inattentive. 

Early in the nineteenth century reactionary vil 
lage clergymen began the practice of referring in 
the pulpit to conspicuous "liberators" of the pre 
ceding age like Franklin, Jefferson, and Paine as 
"horrible examples," as men of brilliant intellect 
and patriotic motives, but of "infamous character" ; 
and this clerical tradition is foolishly perpetuated 

28 



FRANKLIN 29 

in some metropolitan pulpits to this day. In the 
second place, German metaphysics and the romantic 
deluge swept over us quite as devastatingly as over 
England; and the color and humor and emotion of 
Scott, Cooper, and then Dickens made the wit and 
solid sense of our classical period seem flat and 
unprofitable. Finally, when popular curiosity about 
our origins is awakened, it is quickly satisfied by a 
few familiar pictures of the Puritan colonists in the 
seventeenth century before the dawn of the Age of 
Enlightenment, here or elsewhere. 

It is only by some such considerations as these 
that one can understand the affrontery of recent 
critics of civilization in the United States who date 
the emancipation of the American mind from 
seventeenth century theology with the introduction 
of Goethe and Kant to New England. And it is 
only by assuming the existence of wide general 
ignorance, the picturesque ignorance of legend, with 
regard to our own eminent men, that one can explain 
the friendly condescension with which the average 
journalist, for example, refers to that "simple," or 
to that "homespun" fellow, "our honest Franklin." 

In a respectful and indeed laudatory notice in the 
Edinburgh Review of July, 1806, Lord Jeffrey em 
ployed the case of the "uneducated tradesman of 
America" to support his contention that "regular 
education is unfavourable to vigour or originality 
of understanding." Franklin attained his eminence, 
so runs the argument, without academical instruc- 



30 AMERICANS 

tion, with only casual reading, without the benefit 
of association with men of letters, and "in a society 
where there was no relish and no encouragement 
for literature." This statement of Franklin's edu 
cational opportunities is manifestly inadequate; but 
it so pleasantly flatters our long-standing pride in 
our self-made men, that we are loath to challenge it. 

The hero presented to the schoolboy and pre 
served in popular tradition is still an "uneducated 
tradesman of America" : a runaway Boston printer, 
adorably walking up Market Street in Philadelphia 
with his three puffy rolls; directing his fellow shop 
keepers the way to wealth; sharply enquiring of 
extravagant neighbours whether they have not paid 
too much for their whistle ; flying his kite in a thun 
derstorm and by a happy combination of curiosity 
and luck making important contributions to science ; 
and, to add the last lustre to his name, by a happy 
combination of industry and frugality making his 
fortune. This picturesque and racy figure is obvi 
ously a product of provincial America, the first 
great Yankee with all the strong lineaments of the 
type: hardness, shrewdness, ingenuity, practical 
sense, frugality, industry, self-reliance. 

The conception is perhaps sound enough so far 
as it goes, being derived mainly from facts supplied 
by Franklin himself in the one book through which 
he has secured an eternal life in literature. But the 
popular notion of his personality thus derived is 
incomplete, because the Autobiography, ending at 



FRANKLIN 31 

the year 1757, contains no record of the thirty-three 
years which developed a competent provincial into 
an able, cultivated, and imposing man of the world. 
The Franklin now discoverable in the ten volumes 
of his complete works is one of the most widely 
and thoroughly cultivated men of his age. He had 
not, to be sure, a university training, but he had 
what serves quite as well: sharp appetite and large 
capacity for learning, abundance of books, extensive 
travel, important participation in great events, and 
association through a long term of years with the 
most eminent men of three nations. The object of 
our colleges and universities is only to provide a 
feeble substitute for the advantages which Franklin 
enjoyed. In touch as printer and publisher with 
the classic and current literature produced at home 
and imported from abroad, he becomes in Philadel 
phia almost as good a "Queen Anne's man" as Swift 
or Defoe. His scientific investigations bring him 
into correspondence with fellow workers in Eng 
land, France, Germany, Italy, Holland, and Spain. 
Entering upon public life, he is forced into coopera 
tion or conflict with the leading politicians, diplo 
mats, and statesmen of Europe. In his native land 
he has known men like Cotton Mather, Whitefield, 
Benjamin Rush, Benjamin West, Ezra Stiles, Noah 
Webster, Jay, Adams, Jefferson, and Washington. 
In England, where his affections strike such deep 
root that he considers establishing there his perma 
nent abode, he is in relationship, more or less inti- 



32 AMERICANS 

mate, with Mandeville, Paine, Priestley, Price, 
Adam Smith, Robertson, Hume, Joseph Banks, 
Bishop Watson, the Bishop of St. Asaph, Lord 
Kames, Lord Shelburne, Lord Howe, Burke, and 
Chatham. Among Frenchmen he numbers on his 
list of admiring friends Vergennes, Lafayette, 
Mirabeau, Turgot, Quesnay, La Rochefoucauld, 
Condorcet, Lavoisier, Buffon, D'Alembert, Robes 
pierre, and Voltaire. 

It is absurd to speak of one who has been sub 
jected to the molding of such forces as a product 
of the provinces. All Europe has wrought upon and 
metamorphosed the Yankee printer. The man 
whom Voltaire salutes with a fraternal kiss is a 
statesman, a philosopher, a friend of mankind, and 
a favorite son of the eighteenth century. With no 
softening of his patriotic fibre or loss of his Yankee 
tang, he has acquired all the common culture and 
most of the master characteristics of the Age of 
Enlightenment, up to the point where the French 
Revolution injected into it a drop of madness: its 
emancipation from unscrutinized tradition and au 
thority, its regard for reason and nature, its social 
consciousness, its progressiveness, its tolerance, its 
cosmopolitanism, and its bland philanthropy. 

Now this man deserves his large place in our 
literary history not so much by virtue of his writ 
ings, which had little immediate influence upon 
belles-lettres, as by virtue of his acts and ideas, 
which helped liberate and liberalize America. To 



FRANKLIN 33 

describe his most important work is to recite the 
story of his life. 

In reviewing his own career Franklin does not 
dwell on the fact that he who was to stand before 
kings had emerged from a tallow chandler's shop. 
To his retrospective eye there was nothing miracu 
lous nor inexplicable in his origin. On the contrary 
he saw and indicated very clearly the sources of his 
talents and the external impulses that gave them 
direction. Born in Boston on January 6, 1706, he 
inherited from his long-lived parents, Josiah and 
Abiah Folger Franklin, a rugged physical and 
mental constitution which hardly faltered through 
the hard usage of eighty-four years. He recognized 
and profited by his father's skill in drawing and 
music, his "mechanical genius," his "understanding 
and solid judgment in prudential matters, both in 
private and publick affairs," his admirable custom 
of having at his table "as often as he could, some 
sensible friend or neighbour to converse with," al 
ways taking care "to start some ingenious or useful 
topic for discourse, which might tend to improve 
the minds of his children." Benjamin's formal 
schooling was begun when he was eight years old 
and abandoned when he was ten, together with 
the design of making him a clergyman. He signifi 
cantly remarks, however, that he does not remember 
a time when he could not read; and the subsequent 
owner of the best private library in America was 
as a mere child an eager collector of books. For 



34 AMERICANS 

the two years following his removal from school he 
was employed in his father's business. When he 
expressed a firm disinclination to become a tallow 
chandler, his father attempted to discover his natu 
ral bent by taking him about to see various artisans 
at their work. Everything that Franklin touched 
taught him something; and everything that he 
learned, he used. Though his tour of the trades 
failed to win him to any mechanical occupation, "it 
has ever since been a pleasure to me," he says, "to 
see good workmen handle their tools; and it has 
been useful to me, having learnt so much by it as to 
be able to do little odd jobs myself in my house, . . . 
and to construct little machines for my experiments, 
while the intention of making the experiment was 
fresh and warm in my mind." Throughout his boy 
hood and youth he apparently devoured every book 
that he could lay hands upon. He went through his 
father's shelves of "polemic divinity"; read abun 
dantly in Plutarch's Lives; acquired Bunyan's works 
"in separate little volumes," which he later sold to 
buy Burton's Historical Collections; received an 
impetus towards practical improvements from De 
foe's Essay on Projects, and an impetus towards 
virtue from Mather's Essays to Do Good. Before 
he left Boston he had his mind opened to free specu 
lation and equipped for logical reasoning by Locke's 
Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Port 
Royal Art of Thinking, Xenophon's Memorabilia, 
and the works of Shaftesbury and Collins. 



FRANKLIN 35 

Franklin found the right avenue for a person of 
his "bookish inclination" when his brother James, 
returning from England in 1717 with a press and 
letters, set up in Boston as a printer, and proceeded 
to the publication of the Boston Gazette, 1719, and 
the New England Courant, 1721. Benjamin, aged 
twelve, became his apprentice. It can hardly be too 
much emphasized that this was really an inspiring 
"job." It made him stand at a very early age full in 
the wind of local political and theological contro 
versy. It forced him to use all his childish stock of 
learning and daily stimulated him to new acquisi 
tions. It put him in touch with other persons, young 
and old, of bookish and literary inclination. They 
lent him books which kindled his poetic fancy to the 
pitch of composing occasional ballads in the Grub 
Street style, which his brother printed, and had him 
hawk about town. His father discountenanced these 
effusions, declaring that "verse-makers were gen 
erally beggars"; but coming upon his son's private 
experiments in prose, he applied the right incentive 
by pointing out where the work "fell short in ele 
gance of expression, in method and in perspicuity." 
"About this time," says Franklin in a familiar para 
graph, "I met with an odd volume of the Spectator." 
Anticipating Dr. Johnson's advice by half a century, 
he gave his days and nights to painstaking study and 
imitation of Addison till he had mastered that style 
"familiar but not coarse, and elegant but not 
ostentatious" which several generations of Eng- 



36 AMERICANS 

lish essayists have sought to attain. All the world 
has heard how Franklin's career as a writer began 
with an anonymous contribution stealthily slipped 
under the door of his brother's printing-house at 
night, and in the morning approved for publication 
by his brother's circle of "writing friends." Pro 
fessor Smyth is inclined to identify this contribution 
with the first of fourteen humorous papers with 
Latin mottoes signed "Silence Dogood," * which ap 
peared fortnightly in the New England C our ant 
from March to October, 1722. In this year Ben 
jamin was in charge of the Courant during his 
brother's imprisonment for printing matter offensive 
to the Assembly; and when, on repetition of the 
offence, the master was forbidden to publish his 
journal, it was continued in the name of the appren 
tice. In this situation James became jealous and 
overbearing, and Benjamin became insubordinate. 
When it grew evident that there was not room 
enough in Boston for them both, the younger 
brother left his indentures behind, and in 1723 made 
his memorable flight to Philadelphia. 

Shortly after his arrival in the Quaker city, he 
found employment with the second printer in Phila 
delphia, Samuel Keimer a curious person who kept 
the Mosaic law. In 1724, encouraged by the facile 



1 The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. Collected and edited by 
Albert Henry Smyth. New York: 1907. Vol. II, p. 1. The 
Dogood Papers were claimed by Franklin in the first draft of his 
Autobiography, and they have been long accredited to him; but 
they were first included in his collected works by Professor Smyth. 



FRANKLIN 37 

promises of Governor Keith, he went to England in 
the expectation that letters of credit and recommen 
dation from his patron would enable him to procure 
a printing outfit. Left in the lurch by the governor, 
he served for something over a year in two great 
London printing houses, kept free-thinking and 
rather loose company, and, in refutation of Wollas- 
ton's Religion of Nature upon which he happened 
to be engaged in the composing-room, published in 
1725 his suppressed tract On Liberty and Necessity. 
Returning to Philadelphia in 1726, he reentered the 
employ of Keimer; in 1728 formed a brief partner 
ship with Hugh Meredith, and in 1730 married and 
set up for himself. In 1728 he formed the famous 
Junto Club for reading, debating, and reforming 
the world an institution which developed into a 
powerful organ of political influence. Shortage of 
money in the province prompted him to the compo 
sition of his Modest Inquiry into the Nature and 
Necessity of Paper Currency, 1729; a service for 
which his friends in the Assembly rewarded him by 
employing him to print the money "a very profit 
able job and a great help to me." Forestalled by 
Keimer in a project for launching a newspaper, 
Franklin contributed in 1728-9 to the rival journal 
published by Bradford a series of sprightly "Busy- 
Body" papers in the vein of the periodical essayists. 
Keimer was forced to sell out; and Franklin ac 
quired from him the paper known from October 2, 
1729, as the Pennsylvania Gazette. To this he con- 



38 AMERICANS 

tributed, besides much miscellaneous matter, such 
pieces as the "Dialogue Between Philocles and 
Horatio Concerning Virtue and Pleasure," the let 
ters of "Anthony Afterwit" and "Alice Adder- 
tongue," "A Meditation on a Quart Mug," and "A 
Witch Trial at Mount Holly." In 1732 he began 
to issue the almanacs containing the wit and wisdom 
of "Poor Richard," a homely popular philosopher, 
who is only the incarnation of common sense, and 
who is consequently not, as has been carelessly as 
sumed, to be identified with his creator. 

By the time he was thirty, Franklin gave promise 
of becoming by a gradual expansion of his useful 
activities the leading Pennsylvanian. In 1736 he 
was chosen clerk of the General Assembly, and in 
the following year was appointed postmaster of 
Philadelphia. He made both these offices useful to 
his printing business and to his newspaper. In com 
pensation, he used his newspaper and his business 
influence to support his measures for municipal im 
provements, among the objects of which may be 
mentioned: street-sweeping, paving, a regular police 
force, a fire company, a hospital, and a public 
library. As his business prospered, he expanded 
it by forming partnerships with his promising work 
men, and sending them with printing-presses into 
other colonies. In 1741 he experimented with a 
monthly publication, The General Magazine and 
Historical Chronicle for All the British Colonies in 
America; this monthly, notable as the second issued 



FRANKLIN 39 

in America, expired with the sixth number. In 1742 
he invented the stove of which he published a de 
scription in 1744 as An Account of the New In 
vented Pennsyhanian Fire Places. In 1743 he drew 
up proposals for an academy which eventually be 
came the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1744 
he founded the American Philosophical Society. In 
1746 he witnessed Spence's electrical experiments in 
Boston, bought the apparatus, and repeated the 
experiments in Philadelphia, where interest in the 
new science was further stimulated that year by a 
present of a Leyden jar given to the Library Com 
pany by the English experimenter, Peter Collinson. 
To this English friend Franklin made extended 
reports of his earlier electrical investigations in the 
form of letters, which Collinson published in Lon 
don in 1751 with the title "Experiments and Obser 
vations in Electricity, Made at Philadelphia in 
America, by Mr. Benjamin Franklin" In 1752 he 
showed the identity of lightning and electricity by 
his kite experiment, and invented the lightning rod. 
In 1748, being assured of a competency, he had 
turned over his business to his foreman, David Hall, 
and purposed devoting the rest of his life to philo 
sophical enquiries. But he had inextricably involved 
himself in the affairs of his community, which, as 
soon as it found him at leisure, "laid hold" of him, 
as he says, for its own purposes "every part of the 
civil government, and almost at the same time, im 
posing some duty upon me." He was made a justice 



40 AMERICANS 

of the peace, member of the common council, alder 
man, and was chosen burgess to represent the city of 
Philadelphia in the General Assembly. In 1753 he 
was appointed jointly with William Hunter to exer 
cise the office of postmaster-general of America. In 
1754, as a member of the Pennsylvania commission 
he laid before the colonial congress at Albany the 
"Plan of Union," adopted by the commissioners. 
In 1755 he displayed remarkable energy, ability, 
and public spirit in providing transportation for 
General Braddock's ill-fated expedition against the 
French; and in the following year he himself took 
command of a volunteer military organization for 
the protection of the northwest frontier. In 1757 
he was sent to England to present the long-standing 
grievances of the Pennsylvania Assembly against 
the proprietary for obstructing legislation designed 
to throw upon them a fair share of the expense of 
government. 

Though Franklin's political mission was not 
wholly successful, his residence in England from 
1757 to 1762 was highly profitable to him. It de 
veloped his talent as a negotiator of public business 
with strangers; it enabled him to consider British 
colonial policies from English points of view; and it 
afforded him many opportunities for general self- 
improvement. After a fruitless effort to obtain 
satisfaction from the representatives of the Penn 
family, dismissing as impractical the hope of pro 
curing for Pennsylvania a royal charter, he appealed 



FRANKLIN 41 

to the Crown to exempt the Assembly from the 
influence of proprietary instructions and to make 
the proprietary estates bear a more equitable pro 
portion of the taxes. To get the Assembly's case 
before the public, he collaborated with an unknown 
hand on An Historical Review of the Constitution 
and Government of Pennsylvania, published in 
1759. The result was a compromise which in the 
circumstances he regarded as a victory. His interest 
in the wider questions of imperial policy he exhibited 
in 1760 by aspersing the advocates of a hasty and 
inconclusive peace with France in his stinging little 
skit, Of the Meanes of Disposing the Enemies to 
Peace, which he presented as an extract from the 
work of a Jesuit historian. In 1760, also, he was 
joint author with Richard Jackson of a notably in 
fluential argument for the retention of Canada, The 
Interest of Great Britain Considered with Regard 
to Her Colonies; to which was appended his Obser 
vations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peo 
pling of Countries, etc. In the intervals of business, 
he sat for his portrait, attended the theatre, played 
upon the armonica, experimented with electricity 
and heat, made a tour of the Low Countries, visited 
the principal cities of England and Scotland, re 
ceived honorary degrees from the universities, and 
enjoyed the society of Collinson, Priestley, Price, 
Hume, Adam Smith, Robertson, and Kames. He 
returned to America in the latter part of 1762. In 
1763 he made a 1,600-mile tour of the northern 



42 AMERICANS 

provinces to inspect the post-offices. In the follow 
ing year he was again in the thick of Pennsylvania 
politics, working with the party in the Assembly 
which sought to have the proprietary government 
of the province replaced by a royal charter. In 
support of this movement he published in 1764 his 
Cool Thoughts on the Present Situation of our Pub 
lic Afairs and his Preface to the Speech of Joseph 
Galloway, a brilliant and blasting indictment of the 
proprietors, Thomas and Richard Penn. 

In the fall of 1764 Franklin was sent again to 
England by the Assembly to petition for a royal 
charter and to express the Assembly's views with 
regard to Grenville's Stamp Act, then impending. 
On July 11, 1765, after the obnoxious measure had 
been passed by an overwhelming majority, Franklin 
wrote to Charles Thomson: "Depend upon it, my 
good neighbour, I took every step in my power to 
prevent the passing of the Stamp Act. . . . But the 
Tide was too strong against us. The nation was 
provoked by American Claims of Independence, and 
all Parties joined in resolving by this act to settle 
the point. We might as well have hindered the 
sun's setting." This letter and one or two others 
of about the same date express a patient submission 
to the inevitable. As soon, however, as Franklin 
was fully apprised of the fierce flame of opposition 
which the passage of the act had kindled in the 
colonies, he caught the spirit of the constituents, and 
threw himself sternly into the struggle for its repeal. 



FRANKLIN 43 

In 1766 he underwent his famous examination before 
the House of Commons on the attitude of the 
Colonies towards the collection of the new taxes. 
The report of this examination, which was promptly 
published, is one of the most interesting and im 
pressive pieces of dramatic dialogue produced in the 
eighteenth century. After the repeal, Franklin 
received recognition at home in the shape of new 
duties: in 1768 he was appointed agent for Georgia; 
in 1769, for New Jersey; in 1770, for Massa 
chusetts. In the summer of 1766 he visited Ger 
many; the following summer he visited Paris; and 
he was in France again for a month in 1769. His 
pen in these years was employed mainly in corre 
spondence and in communications to the newspapers, 
in which he pointedly set forth the causes which 
threatened a permanent breach between the mother 
country and the colonies. In 1773 he published in 
the Gentleman's Magazine two little masterpieces 
of irony which Swift might have been pleased to 
sign : An Edict By The King of Prussia and Rules 
By Which A Great Empire May Be Reduced To A 
Small One, In 1774, in consequence of his activity 
in exposing Governor Hutchinson's proposals for 
the military intimidation of Massachusetts, Frank 
lin was subjected before the Privy Council to 
virulent and scurrilous abuse from Attorney-General 
Wedderburn. This onslaught it was, accentuated 
by his dismissal from the office of Postmaster-Gen 
eral, which began to curdle in Franklin his sincere 



44 AMERICANS 

long-cherished hope of an ultimate reconciliation. 
It is an ominous coincidence that in this year of his 
great humiliation he sent with a letter of recom 
mendation to his son-in-law in Philadelphia, Thomas 
Paine, an obscure Englishman of Whiggish temper, 
two years later to become the fieriest advocate of 
American independence. In disgrace with the Court, 
Franklin lingered in England to exhaust the last 
possibilities of amicable adjustment; petitioning the 
king, conferring with Burke and Chatham, and curi 
ously arranging for secret negotiations with the 
go-betweens of the Ministry over the chess board 
of Lord Howe's sister. He sailed from England 
in March, 1775, half-convinced that the Ministry 
were bent upon provoking an open rebellion. When 
he arrived in Philadelphia, he heard what had hap 
pened at Lexington and Concord. On July 5, 1775, 
he wrote a letter to an English friend of thirty 
years standing, William Strahan, then a member 
of Parliament; it was shortened like a Roman sword 
and sharpened to this point : 

You and I were long Friends: You are now 
my Enemy, and I am 

Yours, 

B. FRANKLIN. 

As Franklin was sixty-nine years old in 1775, he 
might fairly have retreated to his library, and have 
left the burden of the future state to younger hands. 
He had hardly set foot on shore, however, before 



FRANKLIN 45 

the Pennsylvania Assembly elected him delegate to 
the first Continental Congress, where his tried 
sagacity was enlisted in organizing the country's 
political, economic, and military resources for the 
great conflict. On July 7, 1775, the old man wrote 
to Priestley: "My time was never more fully em 
ployed. In the morning at six, I am at the Com 
mittee of Safety, appointed by the Assembly to put 
the province in a state of defence; which commit 
tee holds till near nine, when I am at the Congress, 
and that sits till after four in the afternoon." In 
the period slightly exceeding a year previous to his 
departure for France, he served on innumerable 
committees of the Congress, was made Postmaster 
General of the Colonies, presided over the Consti 
tutional Convention of Pennsylvania, was sent on 
a mission to Canada, assisted in drafting the Decla 
ration of Independence, and signed it. 

In October, 1776, he sailed for France on a com 
mission of the Congress to negotiate a treaty of 
alliance, which was concluded in February, 1778, 
after the surrender of Burgoyne had inspired con 
fidence in the prospects of the American arms. In 
September, 1778, he was appointed plenipotentiary 
to the court of France. Clothed with large powers, 
he transacted in the next few years an almost in 
credible amount of difficult business for his country. 
He obtained from the French government the re 
peated loans which made possible the carrying on of 
a long war; he made contracts for clothing and 



46 AMERICANS 

ammunitions; he dissuaded or recommended to Con 
gress foreign applicants for commissions in the 
colonial army; he arranged exchanges of prisoners- 
of-war; he equipped and to some extent directed 
the operations of privateers; he supplied informa 
tion to many Europeans emigrating to America; he 
made treaties of amity and commerce with Sweden 
and Prussia. With all this engrossing business on 
his hands, he found time to achieve an immense per 
sonal popularity. He was not merely respected as a 
masterly diplomat; he was lionized and idolized 
as the great natural philosopher, the august cham 
pion of liberty, and the friend of humanity. In the 
press of public affairs, never losing interest in scien 
tific matters, he served on a royal French commis 
sion to investigate Mesmerism; sent to his foreign 
correspondents ingenious geological and meteorolog 
ical conjectures; and transmitted to the Royal So 
ciety reports on French experiments in aeronautics. 
He entertained with a certain lavishness at his 
house in Passy; and he was a frequent diner-out, 
adored for his wit and good humor, in the intimate 
coteries of Mme. Helvetius and Mme. Brillon. He 
set up for the amusement of himself and his friends 
a private press in Passy, on which he printed a 
number of bagatelles of an accomplished and charm 
ing levity: The Ephemera, 1778; The Morals of 
Chess, 1779; The Whistle, 1779; The Dialogue 
Between Franklin and the Gout, 1780. In 1784 
he resumed work on his unfinished autobiography, 



FRANKLIN 47 

and published Advice to such as would remove to 
America and Remarks Concerning the Savages of 
North America. In his residence in France he be 
gan seriously to feel the siege of gout, the stone, 
and old age. In 1781, in reply to repeated suppli 
cations for leave to go home and die, Congress had 
appointed him of the commission to negotiate a 
treaty of peace between England and the United 
States. This last great task was completed in 1785. 
In midsummer of that year he said a regretful fare 
well to his affectionate French friends, received the 
king's portrait set in four hundred diamonds, and 
in one of the royal litters was carried down to his 
point of embarkation at Havre de Grace. 

Franklin arrived in Philadelphia in September, 
1785, resolved to set his house in order. He was 
soon made aware that, like the hero in the Con 
quest of Granada, he had not "leisure yet to die." 
He was overwhelmed with congratulations; or, as 
he put it with characteristic modesty of phrase in 
a letter to his English friend Mrs. Hewson: "I had 
the happiness of finding my family well, and of be 
ing very kindly received by my Country folk." In 
the month after his arrival he was elected President 
of the State of Pennsylvania; and the honor was 
thrust upon him again in 1786 and in 1787. In a 
letter of November 14, 1785, he says: "I had not 
firmness enough to resist the unanimous desire of 
my country folks ; and I find myself harnessed again 
in their service for another year. They engrossed 



48 AMERICANS 

the prime of my life. They have eaten my flesh, 
and seem resolved now to pick my bones." In 1787 
he was chosen a delegate to the convention to frame 
the Constitution of the United States an instru 
ment which he deemed not perfect yet as near per 
fection as the joint wisdom of any numerous body 
of men could carry it, handicapped by "their preju 
dices, their passions, their local interests, and their 
selfish views." In 1789, as President of the Aboli 
tion Society, Franklin signed a memorial against 
slavery which was laid before the House of Repre 
sentatives; and on March 23, 1790, less than a 
month before his death, he wrote for the Federal 
Gazette, an ironical justification of the enslaving of 
Christians by African Mohammedans quite in the 
vein of the celebrated Edict of the King of Prussia. 
As the shadows thickened about him, he settled his 
estate, paid his compliments to his friends, and de 
parted, on the seventeenth day of April, 1790, in 
his eighty-fifth year. 

In the matter of religion Franklin was distinctly 
a product of the eighteenth century enlightenment. 
He took his direction in boyhood and early man 
hood from deistical writers like Pope, Collins, 
Shaftesbury, and Mandeville. At various periods of 
his life he drew up articles of belief, which generally 
included recognition of one God, the providential 
government of the world, the immortality of the 
soul, and divine justice. To profess faith in as 
much religion as this, he found emotionally grati- 



FRANKLIN 49 

fying, socially expedient, and conformable to the 
common sense of mankind. He might have sub 
scribed without hesitation to both the positive and 
negative dogmas of the religion civile formulated 
by Rousseau in the Contrat Social. In his later 
years he was in sympathetic relation with Paine, 
Price, and Priestley. He was, however, of a fortu 
nately earlier generation than these English "here 
tics," and certain other circumstances enabled him 
to keep the temper of his heterodoxy sweet, while 
theirs grew acidulous, and to walk serenely in ways 
which for them were embittered by the odium 
theologicum. His earlier advent upon the eigh 
teenth-century scene made possible the unfolding 
and comfortable settlement of his religious ideas 
before deism had clearly allied itself with political 
radicalism and edged its sword for assault upon in 
spired Bible and established church as powers fed 
erate with political orthodoxy in upholding the an 
cient regime. Among the diverse denominational 
bodies in Pennsylvania his perfectly genuine toler 
ance and his unfailing tact helped him to maintain 
a friendly neutrality between parties which were 
far from friendly. Like Lord Chesterfield, he sin 
cerely believed in the decency and propriety of going 
to church; and he went himself when he could en 
dure the preachers. He advised his daughter to 
go constantly, "whoever preaches." He made 
pecuniary contributions to all the leading denomina 
tions in Philadelphia; respectfully acknowledged 



50 AMERICANS 

the good features of each; and undertook to unite in 
his own creed the common and, as he thought, the 
essential features of all. Man of the world as he 
was, he enjoyed the warm friendship of good 
Quakers, good Presbyterians, Whitefield, the 
Bishop of St. Asaph, and his French abbes. His 
abstention from theological controversy was doubt 
less due in part to a shrewd regard for his own in 
terest and influence as a business man and a public 
servant; but it was due in perhaps equal measure 
to his profound indifference to metaphysical ques 
tions unrelated to practical conduct. "Emanci 
pated" in childhood and unmolested in the inde 
pendence of his mind, he reached maturity without 
that acrimony of free thought incident to those who 
attain independence late and have revenges to take. 
He was consistently opposed to the imposition of 
religious tests by constitutional authority. But in 
the Constitutional Convention of 1787 he offered 
a motion in favor of holding daily prayers before 
the deliberations of the Assembly, for as he de 
clared, "the longer I live, the more convincing 
proofs I see of this Truth, that God governs In the 
Affairs of Men." With his progress in eminence 
and years, he seems to have been somewhat 
strengthened in Cicero's conviction that so puissant 
a personality as his own could not utterly perish, 
and he derived a kind of classical satisfaction from 
the reflection that this feeling was in concurrence 
with the common opinions of mankind. A few 



FRANKLIN 51 

weeks before his death he admitted, in a remark 
able letter to Ezra Stiles, a doubt as to the divinity 
of Jesus; but he remarked with his characteristic 
tranquillity that he thought it "needless to busy 
myself with it now, when I expect soon an Oppor 
tunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble." 
Not elate, like Emerson, yet quite unawed, this 
imitator of Jesus and Socrates walked in this world 
and prepared for his ease in Zion. 

Franklin set himself in youth to the study of 
"moral perfection," and the work which only great 
public business prevented his leaving as his literary 
monument was to have been a treatise on the "art of 
virtue." His merits, however, in both the theory 
and practice of the moral life have been seriously 
called in question. It is alleged that his standards 
were low and that he did not live up to them. It 
must be conceded on the one hand that he had a 
natural son who became governor of New Jersey, 
and on the other hand that industry and frugality, 
which most of us place among the minor, he placed 
among the major virtues. When one has referred 
the "errata" of his adolescence to animal spirits, 
"free thinking," and bad company; and when one 
has explained certain laxities of his maturity by 
alluding to the indulgent temper of the French 
society in which he then lived; one may as well 
candidly admit that St. Francis made chastity a 
more conspicuous jewel in his crown of virtues than 
did Dr. Franklin. And when one has pointed out 



52 AMERICANS 

that the prudential philosophy of Poor Richard's 
Almanac was rather a collection of popular wis 
dom than an original contribution; and when one 
has called attention to the special reasons for magni 
fying economic virtues in a community of impecuni 
ous colonists and pioneers; one may as well frankly 
acknowledge that there is nothing in the precepts 
of the great printer to shake a man's egotism like 
the shattering paradoxes of the Beatitudes nor like 
the Christian Morals of Sir Thomas Browne to 
make his heart elate. Franklin had nothing of what 
pietists call a "realizing sense" of sin or of the need 
for mystical regeneration and justification facul 
ties so richly present in his contemporary Jonathan 
Edwards. His cool calculating reason, having sur 
veyed the fiery battleground of the Puritan con 
science, reported that things are forbidden because 
hurtful, not hurtful because forbidden. Guided by 
this utilitarian principle, he simplified his religion 
and elaborated his morality. His system included, 
however, much more than maxims of thrift and pru 
dent self-regard, and to assert that he set up 
wealth as the summum bonum is a sheer libel. He 
commended diligence in business as the means to a 
competency; he commended a competency as a safe 
guard to virtue; and he commended virtue as the 
prerequisite to happiness. The temple that he 
reared to Moral Perfection was built of thirteen 
stones: temperance, silence, order, resolution, fru 
gality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, clean- 



FRANKLIN S3 

liness, tranquillity, chastity, and humility the last 
added on the advice of a Quaker. He wrought 
upon the structure with the method of a monk and 
he recorded his progress with the regularity of a 
book-keeper. The presiding spirit in the edifice, 
which made it something more than a private 
oratory, was a rational and active benevolence to 
wards his fellow mortals in every quarter of the 
earth. The wide-reaching friendliness in Franklin 
may be distinguished in two ways from the roseate 
humanitarian enthusiasm of the Savoyard Vicar. 
It was not begotten by a theory of "natural good 
ness" nor fostered by millennial expectations but 
was born of sober experience with the utility of 
good will in establishing satisfactory and fruitful 
relations among men. It found expression not in 
rhetorical periods but in numberless practical means 
and measures for ameliorating the human lot. By 
no mystical intuition but by the common light of 
reason the "prudential philosopher" discovered and 
acted upon the truth, that the greatest happiness 
that can come to a man in this world is to devote 
the full strength of body and mind to the service 
of his fellow men. Judged either by his principles 
or by his performance, Franklin's moral breadth and 
moral elevation have been absurdly underestimated. 
It is perhaps in the field of politics that Franklin 
exhibits the most marked development of his power 
and his vision. A realistic inductive thinker, well 
versed in the rudiments of his subject long before 



54 AMERICANS 

the revolutionary theorists handled it, he was not 
rendered by any preconception of abstract rights 
indocile to the lessons of his immense political ex 
perience. He formulated his conceptions in the 
thick of existing conditions, and always with refer 
ence to what was expedient and possible as well as 
to what was desirable. He served his apprentice 
ship in the Philadelphia Junto Club, which at its 
inception was little more than a village improve 
ment society, but which threw out branches till it 
became a power in the province, and a considerable 
factor in the affairs of the colonies. In this asso 
ciation he learned the importance of cooperation, 
mastered the tactics of organization, practiced the 
art of getting propaganda afoot, and discovered the 
great secret of converting private desires into public 
demands. In proposing in 1754 his plan for a union 
of the colonies he was applying to larger units the 
principle of cooperative action by which he had built 
up what we might call today his "machine" in Penn 
sylvania. He had in too large measure the in 
stincts and the ideas of a leader, and he had too 
much experience with the conflicting prejudices and 
the resultant compromises of popular assemblies, to 
feel any profound reverence for the "collective wis 
dom" of the people. "If all officers appointed by 
governors were always men of merit," he wrote in 
his Dialogue Concerning the Present State of 
Affairs in Pennsylvania, "it would be wrong ever to 
hazard a popular election." That his belief in 



FRANKLIN 55 

popular representation was due as much to his sense 
of its political expediency as to his sense of its politi 
cal justice is suggested by a passage in his letter on 
the imposition of direct taxes addressed to Gov 
ernor Shirley, December 18, 1754: "In matters of 
general concern to the people, and especially where 
burthens are to be laid upon them, it is of use to 
consider, as well what they will be apt to think and 
say, as what they ought to think." His sojourn 
in England widened his horizons but not beyond the 
bounds of his nationality. As agent, he felt him 
self essentially a colonial Englishman pleading for 
the extension of English laws to British subjects 
across the sea, and playing up to the Imperial policy 
of crushing out the colonizing and commercial 
rivalry of France. The ultimate failure of his mis 
sion of reconciliation effected no sudden transfor 
mation of his political ideas; it rather overwhelmed 
him with disgust at the folly, the obstinacy, and the 
corruption rampant among English politicians of 
the period. He returned to the arms of his people 
because he had been hurled from the arms of his 
king, and he embraced their new principles because 
he was sure they could not be worse applied than 
his old ones. His respect for the popular will was 
inevitably heightened by his share in executing it 
in the thrilling days when he was helping his fellow 
countrymen to declare their independence, and was 
earning the superb epigraph of Turgot : Eripuit ful- 
men coelo sceptrumque tyrannis. His official resi- 



56 AMERICANS 

dence in France completely dissolved his former 
antagonism to that country. In the early stages 
of the conflict his wrath was bitter enough towards 
England, but long before it was over he had taken 
the ground of radical pacificism, reiterating his con 
viction that "there is no good war and no bad 
peace." He who had financed the Revolution had 
seen too much non-productive expenditure of moral 
and physical capital to believe in the appeal to arms. 
If nations required enlargement of their territories, 
it was a mere matter of arithmetic, he contended, 
to show that the cheaper way was to purchase it. 
"Justice," he declared, "is as strictly due between 
neighbor nations as between neighbor citizens, 
. . . and a nation that makes an unjust war is 
only a great gang." So far as he was able, he 
mitigated the afflictions of noncombatants. He pro 
posed by international law to exempt from peril 
fishermen and farmers and the productive workers 
of the world. He ordered the privateersmen under 
his control to safeguard the lives and property of 
explorers and men of science belonging to the enemy 
country; and he advocated for the future the aboli 
tion of the custom of commissioning privateers. In 
the treaty which he negotiated with Prussia he actu 
ally obtained the incorporation of an article so 
restricting the "zone of war" as to make a war be 
tween Prussia and the United States under its terms 
virtually impossible. His diplomatic intercourse in 
Europe had opened his eyes to the common interests 



FRANKLIN 57 

of all pacific peoples and to the inestimable advan 
tages of a general amity among the nations. His 
ultimate political ideal included nothing short of 
the welfare and the commercial federation of the 
world. To that extent, at least, he was a believer 
in majority interests ! It may be further said that 
his political development was marked by a grow 
ing mastery of the art of dealing with men and by 
a steady approximation of his political to his per 
sonal morality. 

For the broad humanity of Franklin's political 
conceptions undoubtedly his interest in the extension 
of science was partly responsible. As a scientific 
investigator he had long been a "citizen of the 
world," and for him not the least bitter conse 
quence of the war was that it made a break in the 
intellectual brotherhood of man. If he had not 
been obliged to supply the army of Washington 
with guns and ammunition, he might have been en 
gaged in the far more congenial task of supplying 
the British Academy with food for philosophical 
discussion. He could not but resent the brutal 
antagonisms which had rendered intellectual cooper 
ation with his English friends impossible, and which 
had frustrated his cherished hope of devoting his 
ripest years to philosophical researches. A natural 
endowment he certainly possessed which would have 
qualified him in happier circumstances for even more 
distinguished service than he actually performed 
in extending the frontiers of knowledge. He had 



58 AMERICANS 

the powerfully developed curiosity of the explorer 
and the inventor, ever busily prying into the causes 
of things, ever speculating upon the consequences 
of novel combinations. His native inquisitiveness 
had been stimulated by a young civilization's mani 
fold necessities, mothering manifold inventions, and 
had been supplemented by a certain moral and ideal 
izing passion for improvement. The practical 
nature of many of his devices, his absorption in 
agriculture and navigation, his preoccupation with 
stoves and chimneys, the image of him firing the 
gas of ditch water or pouring oil on troubled waves, 
and the celebrity of the kite incident rather tend to 
fix an impression that he was but a tactful empiricist 
and a lucky dilettante of discovery. It is interesting 
in this connection to note that he confesses his lack 
of patience for verification. His prime scientific 
faculty, as he himself felt, was the imagination 
which bodies forth the shapes and relations of 
things unknown, which constructs the theory and 
the hypothesis. His mind was a teeming warren 
of hints and suggestions. He loved rather to start 
than to pursue the hare. Happily what he deemed 
his excessive penchant for forming hypotheses was 
safeguarded by his perfect readiness to hear all that 
could be urged against them. He wished not his 
view but truth to prevail which explains the win 
some cordiality of his demeanor towards other 
savants. His unflagging correspondence with in 
vestigators, his subscription to learned publications, 



FRANKLIN 59 

his active membership in philosophical societies and 
his enterprise in founding schools and academies 
all betoken his prescience of the wide domain which 
science had to conquer and of the necessity for co 
operation in the task of subduing it. Franklin was 
so far a Baconian that he sought to avoid unfruitful 
speculation and to unite contemplation and action 
in a stricter embrace for the generation of knowl 
edge useful to man. But in refutation of any charge 
that he was a narrow-minded utilitarian and lacked 
the liberal views and long faith of the modern scien 
tific spirit may be adduced his stunning retort to a 
query as to the usefulness of the balloons then on 
trial in France: "What is the use of a new born 
baby?" 

Of Franklin's style the highest praise is to declare 
that it reveals the mental and moral qualities of 
the man himself. It is the flexible style of a writer 
who has learned the craft of expression by studying 
and imitating the virtues of many masters : the play 
ful charm of Addison, the trenchancy of Swift, the 
concreteness of Defoe, the urbanity of Shaftes- 
bury, the homely directness of Bunyan's dialogue, 
the unadorned vigor of Tillotson, and the epigram 
matic force of Pope. His mature manner, how 
ever, is imitative of nothing but the thoroughly dis 
ciplined movement of a versatile mind which has 
never known a moment of languor or a moment of 
uncontrollable excitement. Next to his omnipresent 
vitality, his most notable characteristic is the clear- 



60 AMERICANS 

ness which results from complete preliminary vision 
of what is to be said, and which in a young hand 
demands deliberate preconsideration. To Franklin 
the ordering of his matter must have become event 
ually a light task as, with incessant passing to and 
fro in his experience and with the daily habit 
of epistolary communication, he grew as familiar 
with his intellectual terrains as an old field marshal 
with the map of Europe. For the writing of his 
later years is marked not merely by clearness and 
force but also by the sovereign ease of a man who 
has long understood himself and the interrelations 
of his ideas and has ceased to make revolutionary 
discoveries in any portion of his own nature. His 
occasional wrath does not fluster him but rather in 
tensifies his lucidity, clarifies his logic, and brightens 
the ironical smile that accompanies the thrust of 
his wit. The "decent plainness and manly freedom" 
of his ordinary tone notes which he admired in the 
writings of his maternal grand-father, Peter Folger 
rise in parts of his official correspondence to a 
severity of decorum; for there is a trace of the 
senatorial in the man, the dignity of antique Rome. 
He is seldom too hurried, even in a private letter, 
to gratify the ear by the turning and cadence of 
sentence and phrase; and one feels that the har 
mony of his periods is the right and predestined 
vesture of his essential blandness and suavity of 
temper. His stylistic drapery, however, is never 
so smoothed and adjusted as to obscure the sinewy 



FRANKLIN 61 

vigor of his thought. His manner is steadily in the 
service of his matter. He is adequate, not copious; 
for his moral "frugality and industry" prompt him 
to eschew surplusage and to make his texture firm. 
His regard for purity of diction is classical; he 
avoids vulgarity; he despises the jargon of scien 
tific pedants ; but like Montaigne he loves frank and 
masculine speech, and he likes to enrich the lan 
guage of the well-bred by discreet drafts upon the 
burry, homely, sententious, proverbial language of 
the people. Like Lord Bacon and like many other 
grave men among his fellow countrymen, he found 
it difficult to avoid an opportunity for a jest even 
when the occasion was unpropitious; and he never 
sat below the Attic salt. When his fortune was 
made he put by the pewter spoon and earthenware 
bowl of his apprenticeship for silver and fine china. 
His biographer reminds us that he kept a well- 
stocked cellar at Passy and enjoyed the dis 
tinction of suffering from the gout. With affluence 
and years he acquired a "palate," and gave a little 
play to the long repressed tastes of an Epicurean 
whom early destiny had cast upon a rockbound 
coast. The literary expression of his autumnal 
festivity is to be found in the bagatelles. The tal 
low chandler's son, having entered on the cycle of 
his development by cultivating thrift like Defoe, 
completed it like Lord Chesterfield by cultivating 
"the graces." The Ephemera proves that this great 
eighteenth century rationalist had a fancy. It is no 



62 AMERICANS 

relative, indeed, of that romantic spirit which pipes 
to the whistling winds on the enchanted greens of 
Shakespeare. It is rather the classic sprite which 
summons the little rosy-winged Loves and Desires 
to sport among the courtiers and philosophers and 
the wasp-waited ladies in the delicate fete 
champetre of Watteau. 



IV 
THE EMERSONIAN LIBERATION 

Some books, like some persons, convey to us all 
that they will ever have to give at a single sitting. 
Others hold our attention profitably through two 
or three encounters. Of the wives we marry we ask 
more than that; and the books to frequent, the 
books to be shipwrecked with, the great books into 
which rich and substantial lives have been distilled 
and packed the Dialogues of Plato, Montaigne's 
Essays, Boswell's Johnson, the Essays and Journals 
of Emerson these are to be lived with and re 
turned to and made the companions of hours and 
days and moods as various as those in which they 
were written. You cannot discover what Emerson 
has been to others or what he may be to you by any 
cursory turning of his pages. Still less can you "get 
him up" by studying any summary of his philosophi 
cal system. Philosophers tell us indeed that his 
philosophical system is hopelessly antiquated, and 
fancy that they have disposed of him. But Emer 
son himself remarked: U I need hardly say to anyone 
acquainted with my thoughts that I have no sys 
tem." The value of his thoughts depends scarcely 

63 



64 AMERICANS 

more upon the metaphysical filaments among them 
than the value of a string of alternating beads of 
gold and pearl depends upon the string. The figure 
has a momentary illustrative force but is very inade 
quate. Emerson lives, still speaks pertinently of 
our current affairs, and to-morrow we shall still 
find him commenting with equal pertinency on to 
morrow's affairs. To know him is not mere knowl 
edge. It is an experience; for he is a dynamic per 
sonality, addressing the will, the emotions, the 
imagination, no less than the intellect. His value 
escapes the merely intellectual appraiser. Analysis 
cannot deal properly with his pungent wit it must 
be savored; nor with the impetus that he gives to 
the will it must be felt; nor with the purgation 
and serene rapture of the mind towards which his 
noble discipline tends this rapture must be at 
tained as a state of grace by imitation of those who 
have attained it, by lifelong intercourse with men 
whose tone and habit of life is noble. 



Since we are to consider him primarily as an 
unspent force in our own times, what it most con 
cerns us to enquire about him is what he can do for 
us. If we approach him with that question, we 
need not tarry long over biographical details, inter 
esting and rewarding as they may be to the student 
of literary history. We pretty well sum up his ex- 



EMERSON 65 

ternal career when we say that he was a New Eng- 
lander of Boston, where he was born in 1803, and 
of Concord, where he died in 1882, after a studious 
life of irreproachable purity, dignity, and simplicity 
becoming the descendant of several generations of 
New England gentlemen and scholars. His formal 
education he received at the Boston Latin School 
and at Harvard College, from which he was gradu 
ated in 1821, with a well-formed bias towards an 
intellectual life. The son of a Unitarian minister, 
he inherited an ethical impulse which directed him 
to the Harvard Divinity School in 1825-6. In 1829 
he was appointed pastor of the Second Unitarian 
Church of Boston. He was married in the same 
year to Ellen Tucker, who died two years later, 
leaving him a sweet and unfading memory of her 
fragile loveliness. After he had served his parish 
acceptably for three years, he felt obliged to an 
nounce, in 1832, that he was no longer able to 
administer the sacrament of communion in the gen 
eral sense of his congregation, and resigned his 
charge. In December of that year he visited Eu 
rope and made acquaintance with three or four men 
whose residence in Europe constituted for him the 
chief reason for going abroad: Landor in Italy, 
Carlyle at Craigenputtock, and Coleridge and 
Wordsworth in England. He returned to America 
in October, 1833, and in the following year settled 
permanently in Concord. In 1835 he married his 
second wife, Lidian Jackson. For three or four 



66 AMERICANS 

years he preached with some regularity in various 
pulpits, but he gradually abandoned the church for 
the lyceum, which invited him as far west as Wis 
consin and Illinois. He made a second visit to 
England in 1848. For the most part, barring his 
winter lecturing tours and an occasional excursion 
to deliver a commencement address or a Phi Beta 
Kappa oration, he lived placidly in Concord, read 
ing, meditating, writing, editing the short-lived 
transcendental Dial, looking amusedly askance upon 
the Brook Farm experiment, and walking and talk 
ing with his famous fellow-villagers, the Alcotts, 
the Hawthornes, Margaret Fuller, Ellery Chan- 
ning, and Thoreau. 

What ferment of radical thought went on be 
neath the decorous exterior of that quiet scholar's 
life we know with remarkable fulness and accuracy. 
From early boyhood Emerson kept a journal a 
habit, in his case, denoting a mind disposed to make 
unusual exactions of the "hypocritic days." At 
first, he is much occupied with what he has read 
or proposes to read; but presently his note-book 
becomes a kind of storehouse for mellowing the 
fruits of his daily meditations, and an experimental 
garden for planting the seeds of new thoughts 
gathered on his intellectual adventures. The Jour 
nals, now published in twelve volumes, give us 
an invaluable commentary upon the long-familiar 
essays, and they enrich greatly our sense of the 
personality behind them. Especially they illuminate 



EMERSON 67 

the turning point in Emerson's life, when he aban 
doned the pulpit and became a wholly free thinker 
and speaker. With their help, one perceives that 
for years before the open break, the inner emanci 
pation had been proceeding. One observes the 
young thinker expanding steadily beyond the formu 
las of his parish, reaching out towards the life of 
his nation, feeling his way into the higher spirit of 
his times, daily becoming more eager to exchange 
messages and compare visions with the leaders of 
his generation. 

It is a vulgar error of our day to think of Emer 
son and his friends as living in a rude and mentally 
poverty-stricken era. In his formative period, say 
from 1820 to 1832, society around the Golden Gate 
and at the southern end of Lake Michigan was 
indeed in a somewhat more primitive state than at 
present. But in compensation, such civilized society 
as the country possessed was concentrated in a much 
smaller geographical area. To reside in Boston or 
New York was not then, as now, to live on the rim 
but at the centre of population, within reach of the 
molding pressure of all the great Americans of one's 
time. The "moment," furthermore, was peculiarly 
rich in the presence of eminent men who had been 
shaped by the Revolution, and in the presence of 
men who were to become eminent in the movement 
which led to the Civil War. To a young man of 
Emerson's quality, the period of the Adamses, Jef 
ferson, Randolph, and Jackson, the period of Web- 



68 AMERICANS 

ster, Clay, Calhoun, Everett, and Garrison, was not 
a dull period, not a dead interval, but a most stirring 
and exciting time between two epoch-making crises, 
with the thunder of a political Niagara at one's 
back, and the roar of wild rapids ahead. The air 
was full of promise and of peril and of conflicting 
measures for avoiding the one and fulfilling the 
other. 

Politically-minded men the Jacksons, the Clays, 
the Calhouns brought to the problems of the hour 
political solutions. But the more sensitive spirits 
among the younger generation in New England had 
already experienced a certain reaction against the 
political faith and enthusiasms of their fathers. Al 
ready they heard the ominous creaking of demo 
cratic machinery under the manipulation of unskil 
ful and unscrupulous hands. To them it began to 
appear that the next great improvement in the 
condition of society must depend less upon the 
alteration of laws and institutions than upon the 
intellectual and moral regeneration of men. The 
new movement was genuinely Puritan by its inward 
ness, by its earnest passion for cleansing the inside 
of the cup, and by its protest against external 
powers which thwarted or retarded the efforts of 
the individual soul to move forward and upward by 
light from within. Looking back in 1844 over the 
multifarious projects for "the salvation of the 
world" unfolded by reformers in his part of the 
country, Emerson remarks: "There was in all the 



EMERSON 69 

practical activities of New England, for the last 
quarter of a century, a gradual withdrawal of ten 
der consciences from the social organization. There 
is observable throughout, the contest between me 
chanical and spiritual methods, but with a steady 
tendency of the thoughtful and virtuous to a deeper 
belief and reliance on spiritual facts." 

Those who place their reliance on spiritual facts 
have always been thought a little queer and rather 
dangerous by those who do not. Nor can it be 
denied that the radical protestantism of the Puri 
tans, which Emerson inherited, has contained from 
the time of Wycliff an anarchical germ, a latent 
suspicion of church and state, a tendency towards 
"coming out," till one shall stand alone in utter 
freedom and count for one and nothing more. It 
is hardly possible to exaggerate the individualism 
which characterized the movement in New England. 
For Emerson above all, the very rapture of the time 
rose from its challenge to a perfectly independent, 
a perfectly fearless, scrutiny and testing of received 
values in every field art, politics, morals, religion. 

Emerson was preserved from the fanaticism of 
a secession from "the social organization" partly 
by his culture. A moral reformation which under 
takes to investigate the bases of morals will develop 
and transform itself into an intellectual renascence 
as soon as those who are conducting it perceive that 
everything in heaven and earth has a bearing on 
their questions. Emerson discovered early that the 



70 AMERICANS 

first step towards thinking greatly and freely on 
moral matters is to consult the world's accumulated 
wisdom. Hasty writers speak of his "jaunty" atti 
tude towards the past. If he is jaunty about the 
past, it is because he is very familiar with it. What 
impresses the thoughtful student of his journals is 
his steady effort to hold himself and his contempo 
raries under the searching cross-lights of human 
experience. He reads Plato, Cicero, Hafiz, Con 
fucius, Buddha, Mahomet, Dante, Montaigne, Mil 
ton, Voltaire, Kant, Goethe, Napoleon, Coleridge, 
Carlyle, because that, he finds, is the effective way 
to set his own intelligence free, and because freedom, 
he finds, means ability to move at ease and as an 
equal among such minds as these. 

But Emerson was also preserved from excessive 
individualism by a passion which, properly elevated 
and directed, may be a young man's guardian angel, 
the passion of ambition. "All young persons," he 
observes, "thirst for a real existence for a real ob 
ject, for something great and good which they 
shall do with their heart. Meanwhile they all pack 
gloves, or keep books, or travel, or draw indentures, 
or cajole old women." By habitual imaginative 
association with great men, he had assimilated their 
thoughts and virtues, and had accustomed himself 
to look forward with an almost Miltonic assurance 
to playing a part above the ordinary in the life of 
his country. At the age of twenty-one he is sketch 
ing a series of papers on the improvement of the 



EMERSON 71 

nation. He thinks the demand for a moral educa 
tion the best sign of the times, and deems the explo 
ration of the field a task fit for a new Columbus. 
He queries whether it were not an "heroic adven 
ture" for him to "insist on being a popular speaker." 
And with perceptible elation at the prospect he con 
cludes: "To address a great nation risen from the 
dust and sitting in absolute judgment on the merits 
of men, ready to hear if any one offers good counsel, 
may rouse the ambition and exercise the judgment 
of a man." 



II 



There is some disposition at present to look upon 
Emerson's ambition as extravagant and to regard 
his work as a closed chapter in the intellectual life 
of America. It is even asserted that he never much 
affected the thinking of his countrymen. Says a 
recent writer, "What one notices about him chiefly 
is his lack of influence upon the main stream of 
American thought, such as it is. He had admirers 
and even worshippers, but no apprentices." But 
this judgment will not stand examination. Emerson 
was a naturalist with a fresh vision of the natural 
world: he had Thoreau for an apprentice, and be 
tween them they established relations with the natu 
ral world, which successive naturalists like John 
Burroughs and John Muir have maintained and 
broadened to the dimensions of a national tradition. 



72 AMERICANS 

Emerson was a poet with a fresh vision of the 
poetic field in America : he had Whitman for a dis 
ciple, and a large part of what passes with us as 
poetry to-day, whatever is indigenous and racy of 
the soil and native character and ideals, is ultimately 
traceable to their inspiration. Emerson is our great 
original force in criticism; he left the imprint of his 
spirit upon Lowell, who said: "There is no man 
living to whom, as a writer, so many of us feel and 
thankfully acknowledge so great an indebtedness for 
ennobling impulses." Whatever is finely academic, 
high-bred, and distinguished in our critical literature 
to-day has felt the influence of Emerson and Lowell. 
"To him," according to Lowell, "more than to all 
other causes together did the young martyrs of our 
Civil War owe the sustaining strength of thought 
ful heroism that is so touching in every record of 
their lives." By his aid innumerable preachers and 
teachers have found a way to translate the message 
of ancient scriptures into the language of modern 
men. Every American who pretends to know any 
thing whatever of the American classics has at one 
time or other read the Essays; and the "idealism" 
which was once thought to be characteristic of the 
American people is most readily formulated in a 
half dozen of his "familiar quotations," which 
every one knows, whether he has read a line of 
Emerson or not. Directly and indirectly Emerson 
probably did as much as any other writer in our 
history to establish what we mean by "a good 



EMERSON 73 

American"; and that, in the long run, is the most 
important sort of influence that can be exerted by 
any writer in any country. 

That his influence abroad has been considerable 
may be briefly suggested by the reminder that he 
touched deeply such various men as Carlyle, Mat 
thew Arnold, Nietzsche, and M. Maeterlinck. When 
Arnold visited America in 1883, he lectured on 
Emerson, on whom thirty years earlier he had 
written a sonnet of ardent admiration and homage. 
The lecture, the fruit of his ripest critical reflection, 
was not altogether satisfactory to his American 
audience. It impressed them as quite inadequately 
appreciative of their chief literary luminary. For 
Arnold very firmly declared that Emerson is not to 
be ranked with the great poets, nor with the great 
writers of prose, nor with the great makers of philo 
sophical systems. These limitations of Emerson's 
power are commonly quoted as if detraction were 
the main burden of Arnold's message. As a matter 
of fact they are preliminary to his deliberate and 
remarkable declaration that in his judgment Emer 
son's essays are the most important work done in 
prose in our language during the nineteenth century. 
This is high praise from an exacting critic who was 
little given to the use of superlatives in any case, 
least of all in the case of American authors. 

For what merit does Emerson deserve this pre 
eminent place? Because, says Arnold, in a phrase 
full of significance, because "he is the friend and 



74 AMERICANS 

aider of those who would live in the spirit" Let 
us unfold a little the implications of this phrase and 
make its application more precise. Important as 
Emerson may have been to young Englishmen in the 
first half of the last century, he was still more im 
portant to young Americans. Helpful as he may 
become to European minds, he will always remain 
peculiarly the friend and aider of those who would 
live in the spirit amid an environment which, as is 
generally thought, tends powerfully to confirm on 
the one hand the hard and merely practical genius 
of the Yankee, and, on the other hand, the narrow 
and inflexible righteousness of the merely traditional 
Puritan, the Puritan who feels no longer the urgency 
and progressive force of new moral life within him. 
To the posterity of Franklin and Edwards, Emer 
son is the destined and appropriate counsellor be 
cause he brings them undiminished the vital force of 
their great moral traditions while at the same time 
he emancipates them from the "dead hand," the 
cramping and lifeless part of their past. To chil 
dren of the new world, Emerson is a particularly 
inspiring friend, because with deep indigenous voice 
he frees them from unmanly fear of their elders, 
lifts from their minds the overawing prestige of 
Europe, liberates the powers and faith of the indi 
vidual man and makes him "at home" in his own 
time and place. 

A great part of our lives, as we all recognize in 
what we call our educational period, is occupied 



EMERSON 75 

with learning how to do and to be what others have 
been and have done before us. We come abreast of 
our predecessors by imitating them, and are grateful 
to the masters when they reveal to us their secrets, 
to the older men when they give us the benefit of 
their experience. But presently we discover that the 
world is changing around us, and that the secrets of 
the masters and the experience of our elders do not 
wholly suffice much though they aid us to estab 
lish us effectively in our younger world. We dis 
cover within us needs, aspirations, powers of which 
the generation that educated us seems unaware, or 
towards which it appears to be indifferent, unsympa 
thetic, or even actively hostile. We perceive gradu 
ally or with successive shocks of surprise that many 
things which our fathers declared were true and sat 
isfactory are not at all satisfactory, are by no means 
true, for us. Then it dawns upon us, perhaps as an 
exhilarating opportunity, perhaps as a grave and 
sobering necessity, that in a little while we ourselves 
shall be the elders, the responsible generation. Our 
salvation in the day when we take command will 
depend, we are constrained to believe, upon our 
disentanglement from the lumber of heirlooms and 
hereditary devices, and upon the discovery and free 
wise use of our own faculties. The vital part of 
education begins in the hour when consciousness of 
self-dependence breaks upon the mind. That is the 
hour for Emerson. 

He appeals to unfolding minds because he is pro- 



76 AMERICANS 

foundly in sympathy with the modern spirit. By 
this phrase we mean primarily the disposition to 
accept nothing on authority, but to bring all reports 
to the test of experience. The modern spirit is first 
of all a free spirit open on all sides to the influx of 
truth. But freedom is not its only characteristic. 
The modern spirit is marked further by an active 
curiosity which grows by what it feeds upon, and 
goes ever enquiring for fresher and sounder infor 
mation, not content till it has the best information 
to be had anywhere. But since it seeks the best, it 
is, by necessity, also a critical spirit, constantly sift 
ing, discriminating, rejecting, and holding fast that 
which is good only till that which is better is within 
reach. This endless quest, when it becomes central 
in a life, requires labor, requires pain, requires a 
measure of courage ; and so the modern spirit, with 
its other virtues, is an heroic spirit. As a reward 
for difficulties gallantly undertaken, the gods bestow 
on the modern spirit a kind of eternal youth with 
unfailing powers of recuperation and growth. This 
spirit free, actively curious, upward-striving, criti 
cal, courageous, and self-renewing Emerson richly 
possesses; and that is why he is so happily qualified 
to be a counsellor of youth in the period of intel 
lectual emancipation. 

There are many prophets abroad in the land to 
day, offering themselves as emancipators, who have 
only very partially comprehended their task. By 
the incompleteness of their message they bring the 



EMERSON 77 

modern spirit itself into disrepute. They under 
stand and declare that the modern spirit is free and 
curious. They have failed to recognize that it is 
also critical and upward striving. When the well 
born soul discards the "old clothes" of outworn 
custom and belief, it seeks instinctively for fresh 
raiment; but these Adamites would persuade it to 
rejoice in nakedness and seek no further. They 
know that man is an animal; but it escapes their 
notice that man is an animal constituted and des 
tined by his nature to make pilgrimages in search 
for a shrine, and to worship, till he finds it, the 
Unknown God. Because they understand so ill the 
needs and cravings of man, they go about eagerly 
hurrying him from a predicament into a disaster. 
They conceive that they have properly performed 
the emancipative function when they have cut the 
young generation loose from the old moorings, and 
set it adrift at the mercy of wind and tide. 

It is these partial liberators who produce in our 
young people that false and bewildering sense of 
illumination, so eloquently described by John Henry 
Newman. Says that penetrating analyst of modern 
libertinism: "When the mind throws off as so much 
prejudice what it has hitherto held, and, as if wak 
ing from a dream, begins to realize to its imagina 
tion that there is no such thing as law and the 
transgression of law, that sin is a phantom, and 
punishment a bugbear, that it is free to sin, free to 
enjoy the world and the flesh; and still further, 



78 AMERICANS 

when it does enjoy them, and reflects that it may 
think and hold just what it will, that 'the world is 
all before it where to choose,' and what system to 
build up as its own private persuasion; when this 
torrent of wilful thoughts rushes over and inun 
dates it, who will deny that the fruit of the tree 
of knowledge, or what the mind takes for knowl 
edge, has made it one of the gods, with a sense of 
expansion and elevation, an intoxication in reality, 
still, so far as the subjective state of the mind goes, 
an illumination?" 

The true emancipator, the man who has entered 
fully into the modern spirit, is always a reconstruc- 
tionist. The enlargement of mind which he offers 
is always, to modify slightly the words of Newman, 
an enlargement not of tumult and intoxication but 
of clearer vision and fruitful peace. In our Civil 
War slaves set free by proclamation flung up their 
caps and shouted with a vague joy. But shortly 
afterwards, we are told, many of them returned to 
their old masters and sought reemployment at their 
former tasks. So little was their undirected free 
dom worth. The true liberator strikes off the old 
shackles but immediately he suggests new service, 
a fuller use of our powers. He cuts us loose from 
the old moorings ; but then he comes aboard like a 
good pilot, and while we trim our sails, he takes 
the wheel and lays our course for a fresh voyage. 
His message when he leaves us is not, "Henceforth 
be masterless," but "Bear thou henceforth the seep- 



EMERSON 79 

tre of thine own control through life and the passion 
of life." 



Ill 



Religious emancipation as conducted by Emerson 
makes a man not less but more religious. It frees 
the restless modern soul from ancient sectarian fet 
ters, from ceremonial that has become empty, and 
from the litter of meaningless creeds. But straight 
way it reestablishes the soul in a new doctrine of 
"continuous revelation" and in works and conduct 
proper to those who have been freshly inspired. 
There is an element that looks like mystical 
experience underlying this fundamental part of 
Emerson's religious teaching. But since mysticism 
constitutes a difficulty and an obstacle to the aver 
age modern mind, let us reduce the irrational or 
super-rational element as far as possible. Let us 
explain what we can. 

Emerson's belief in continuous revelation is 
clearly ascribable in large measure to the breadth 
of his spiritual culture. Throughout his life he was 
a student of the religions of the world. With free 
and open mind he compared the teachings of Plato, 
Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, Mahomet, seeking the 
spirit beneath the letter transmitted by each. This 
comparison did not bring him to the hasty thinker's 
conclusion that the Bible of Christians is an unin 
spired book, but rather to the conclusion that all the 



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bibles are inspired books. The farther he pressed 
his studies in religion, in philosophy, in poetry, the 
more obvious it became to him that elevated thought 
and noble emotion are not the exclusive endowment 
of any special period or person, but are common to 
the highest representatives of all great peoples in 
all the great ages. 

How account for that undeniable and really very 
inspiriting fact? Emerson explained it by what 
might be called the law of the conservation of 
spiritual energy. The mortal forms, momentarily 
fixed in the shape of Plato or Confucius, decay and 
are dispersed, yet their elemental force, as modern 
science teaches us, is not destroyed, but resumed and 
conserved in the all-encompassing energy of the uni 
verse, and is recreated for ever and ever in new 
shapes of men and things. In like fashion, as it 
appeared to Emerson, the thought and feeling of 
men, since thought and feeling are also forms of 
energy, must be resumed and conserved indestruc 
tibly in the general reservoir of moral energy, the 
"over-soul," from which they flow again into indi 
viduals, generations, races, with such sustaining 
recurrence as the vernal sap observes. 

The vividness of his belief in this inflowing power 
may be ascribed to certain personal experiences, 
emotional and exalting, for which the entire disci 
pline of his life had prepared him. From his youth 
up he had conversed in his reading with strong- 
souled men, with the saints, heroes, and sages. He 



EMERSON 81 

had meditated on their counsels not occasionally 
but daily, persistently, for hours together, till the 
bounds between their minds and his disappeared, 
and their thoughts actually became his thoughts and 
their temper his temper. It is a discipline which 
breaks down the walls of personality and merges 
the individual with the over-soul. By books, he 
writes in his journal in 1824 at the age of twenty- 
one, "my memory goes back to a past immortality, 
and I almost realize the perfection of a spiritual 
intercourse which gains all the good, and lacks all 
the inconvenience and disgust of close society of 
imperfect beings. We are then likest to the image 
of God, for in this grateful rapidity of thought a 
thousand years become one day." 

A mind thus stored and sensitized will respond 
now and then to an apparently slight stimulus with 
an extraordinary excitement and something in the 
nature of "vision" and "illumination." The young 
man reads in quiet solitude one of the more poetical 
dialogues of Plato, or he walks in flowering fields 
communing with his thoughts, or he lifts his head 
from his sick-bed at sunrise and beholds "the spot 
less orange light of the morning streaming up from 
the dark hills into the wide universe." Suddenly, 
to him unaccountably, there is a profound stirring 
of his emotional depths. A sense of sublimity fills 
his consciousness. His will appears to him godlike, 
invincible. He is elate with benign resolution. In 
a delighted ecstasy he feels streaming through all 



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his being eternal forces, all the wisdom and all the 
virtues that have ever been in the world. However 
we may attempt to explain, or to explain away, his 
sensations, he himself is incontrovertibly convinced 
that he has been visited and breathed upon by a 
power-not-himself. He has been but a passive 
vessel filled to the brim by an inrush of energy from 
the Over-soul, from the circumfluent seas of moral 
power. 

Such inspiration, Emerson holds, is natural to 
man. It is probably open to everyone who will 
subject himself to the requisite preliminary disci 
pline who will live steadily with such thoughts as 
Emerson entertained. Record of these visitations 
one may find here and there in the Journals in such 
statements as this : "I am surrounded by messengers 
of God who send me credentials day by day" 
statements which an intelligent reader may accept 
as substantially true and essentially verifiable by the 
method just indicated. This personal and direct 
relationship which he cultivated with the Over-soul 
had a two-fold effect. On the one hand it quite 
indisposed him to render allegiance to intermediate 
powers. Thus he declares in a poem of 1833, "Self- 
Reliance" : 

Henceforth, please God, forever I forego 
The yoke of men's opinions. I will be 
Light-hearted as a bird, and live with God. 
I find Him in the bottom of my heart, 
I hear continually His voice therein. 



EMERSON 83 

On the other hand, this direct relationship with 
the source of moral power made him joyfully obe 
dient to the impulses of what he at various times 
designated as the heavenly vision, the divine neces 
sity, or the overlord of his soul. A certain levity, 
almost a frivolity, which he exhibits now and then 
in the presence of creeds, churches, pious organi 
zations, is actually the consequence of his entire 
reverence in the presence of every unmistakable 
manifestation of spiritual life. Like his friend 
Carlyle, he feels that the religious edifices of the 
day are become uninhabitable; the religious spirit 
is seeking a new house. "Religion," he remarks, 
"does not seem to me to tend now to a cultus as 
heretofore, but to a heroic life. We find difficulty 
in conceiving any church, any liturgy, any rite that 
would be genuine." 

This sounds like a radical utterance. It is radical 
with the root and branch thoroughness of Emer 
son's inherited Puritanism, a vital Puritanism 
urgent with fresh power, impatient of a corrupted 
tradition and a conformity that withholds one from 
the living truth. The tendency of the traditional 
religious culture he criticizes, as indifferent to 
aesthetic development, narrowly and incompletely 
moral, and averse from the wide reaches of living 
truth which are open to the modern mind in the 
domains of science. He holds that the founder of 
the faith in which most of his countrymen were bred 
was indeed a pure beam of truth whose ethical utter- 



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ances cannot be overprized, yet that he exhibited a 
"very exclusive and partial development of the 
moral element. ... A perfect man should exhibit 
all the traits of humanity, and should expressly 
recognize intellectual nature. [Italics mine.] Socra 
tes I call a complete, universal man." 

That Emerson's is the radicalism of a conserva 
tive bent upon holding fast that which is good is 
indicated by many other references to the character 
and teaching of Jesus, to whom he returns again 
and again with perceptions quickened and sharp 
ened by his secular culture. "How strange," he 
exclaims, "that Jesus should stand at the head of 
history, the first character of the world without 
doubt, but the unlikeliest of all men, one would say, 
to take such a rank in the world." Approaching 
the subject from a quite different quarter, he says: 
"I think the true poetry which mankind craves is 
that Moral Poem of which Jesus chanted to the 
ages, stanzas so celestial, yet only stanzas." And 
finally from still another angle: "The heart of 
Christianity is the heart of all philosophy." 

IV 

Much has been written of Emerson's philosophi 
cal indebtedness to Kant and his German followers, 
and to Coleridge and Carlyle and Madame de Stael, 
who were intermediaries between the German and 
the New England transcendentalists. It is not in 



EMERSON 85 

my power, happily it is not much to our purpose, 
to enter into the details of this discussion. Briefly 
speaking, it may be said that the German thinkers 
and their interpreters by their combined influence 
did undoubtedly strengthen Emerson's instinctive 
reaction against the dry and incomplete rationalism 
of the eighteenth century and against the Utili 
tarians of the nineteenth century, who to his nostrils 
brought a peculiarly repugnant odor of "profit and 
loss." But Emerson was no systematic student of 
metaphysics, and most of such general impulses as 
he was capable of receiving from the German 
system-makers, he had perhaps encountered in Plato 
and Berkeley and the seventeenth century divines 
before he had much cultivated his German. He ulti 
mately made his way through Goethe, but he never 
became intimately attached to him or even quite 
reconciled to him, finding him and his aesthetic 
friends deficient in "moral life." 

What is still more to the point, the vital features 
of Emerson's philosophy are due less immediately 
to his reading than to that religious illumination of 
which we have already spoken. He arrived at the 
centre of his beliefs by intuition. From the me 
chanical conception of the universe which reduced 
Carlyle almost to despair, Emerson emancipated 
himself, or rather he perfected his emancipation, 
by a critical examination of his own experience. 
This scrutiny disclosed a real world, the world of 
things, moved by physical energies in accordance 



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with the laws of things. But it disclosed also an 
equally real world, the world of ideas, moved by 
moral energies in accordance with the laws, perhaps 
less clearly understood, of ideas. One world is 
associated with the other as the eye is associated 
with seeing; yet seeing, not the instrument of sight, 
is the sovereign matter. An important continua 
tion of the Emersonian influence in our times, Pro 
fessor Irving Babbitt, takes as the point of de 
parture for his own developments these lines from 
Emerson's Ode to W. H. Channing: 

There are two laws discrete, 

Not reconciled, 

Law for man, and law for thing; 

The last builds town and fleet, 

But it runs wild, and doth the man unking. 

As philosopher, Emerson conceives it his chief 
business to explore the "law for man," to formulate 
it, and to obtain recognition of it as the supreme 
authority in human relationships. His entire effort 
aims at establishing human independence and a 
human mastership. Man liberates himself and ex 
changes servitude for mastery in proportion as he 
obeys the "law for man" and learns to make the 
"law for things" serve him. In thus firmly insisting 
upon a radical distinction between the two parallel 
planes of experience, Emerson is in accord with the 
wisdom of the ages and at variance with the folly 
/ of the times, which tends to obliterate distinctions 



EMERSON 87 

and, surrendering to a physical fatalism, to accept 
the law for things as also the law for man. Those 
who still contend for the identity of the two laws 
like to speak of their view as "realistic." It is a 
word to conjure with. Emerson's view will prevail 
against theirs only when it is finally established as 
more realistic than theirs, as more accurately and 
adequately descriptive of the facts of nature, the 
experience of men. 

It is important to note that what Emerson con 
tends for as the realistic view is the "twoness" of 
the universe. He does not oppose a physical mon 
ism with a spiritual monism, but with a fairly clean- 
cut dualism. It is a man asserting the equal realness 
but radical dissimilarity of things and ideas who 
remarks in his Journal, "Realist seems the true 
name for the movement party among our Scholars 
here. I at least endeavor to make the exchange 
evermore of a reality for a name." When the 
"solid men" of his day complain that his way of 
thinking neglects the fundamental facts, he replies 
that their way of thinking neglects the hypaethral 
facts, but that his way of thinking takes due cogni 
zance of both: "Turnpike is one thing and blue sky 
another." "The poet complains that the solid men 
leave out the sky." This is the sunny mockery of 
one who was both a poet and a solid man. Emerson 
wove a net for casting in fathomless seas and 
brought home his catches by ways unknown to the 
fishermen; but this did not prevent his raising good 



88 AMERICANS 

apples in his Concord orchard and taking the cus 
tomary road to market. 

His philosophical emphasis is, however, of course 
upon the order of facts most likely to be ignored by 
the "solid men," and because of his emphasis upon 
this order of facts we speak of him as an idealist 
and as a great fountain of American idealism. 
What idealism meant to him is expressed in his 
Journal in words which Moliere's cook might have 
understood: "We are idealists whenever we prefer 
an idea to a sensation. . . . The physical sciences 
are only well studied when they are explored for 
ideas. . . . The book is always dear which has 
made us for moments idealists. That which can 
dissipate this block of earth into shining ether is 
genius. I have no hatred to the round earth and 
its grey mountains. I see well enough the sandhill 
opposite my window. Their phenomenal being I no 
more dispute than I do my own. . . . Religion 
makes us idealists. Any strong passion does. The 
best, the happiest moments of life, are these deli 
cious awakenings of the higher powers and the 
reverential withdrawing of nature before its God. 
. . . We are all aiming to be idealists, and covet 
the society of those who make us so, as the sweet 
singer, the orator, the ideal painter." 



It is commonly said that Emerson's interest in 
morals is his inheritance from the Puritans. In this 



EMERSON 89 

connection it is interesting to find him in the Journal 
associating himself consciously with the loftiest 
Puritan of the seventeenth century, John Milton, of 
whom he writes: "Milton describes himself to 
Diodati as enamored of moral perfection. He did 
not love it more than I." Here indeed is a visible 
link in what we have grown accustomed to call the 
Puritan tradition. But, as a matter of fact, were 
Emerson and Milton more in love with moral per 
fection than Spenser, or was Spenser more in love 
with it than Dante, or Dante than Augustine, or 
Augustine than the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, or 
the Emperor than Socrates? There is a great com 
munity of minds enamored of moral perfection. It 
is no novel passion originating in New England or 
among the English Puritans. How explain the 
antiquity of the tradition? Dante, following Aris 
totle, explains it by declaring that "all things, by an 
intuition of their own nature, seek perfection." 
Emerson, then, rediscovered what Aristotle had ob 
served : that the impulse to self-perfection is a tend 
ency in the constitution of man. 

In America, the most important predecessor of 
Emerson in this rediscovery was a free-thinking 
man of the world, entirely out of sympathy with 
strait-laced and stiff-necked performers of barren 
rites and observances. I refer to the greatest 
liberalizing force in eighteenth century America, 
Benjamin Franklin. Was he a Puritan? No one 
thinks of him as such; yet in truth he represents 



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the normal reaction of a radical protestantism, of 
a living Puritanism, to an "Age of Enlightenment." 
By the courage of his moral realism he prepares the 
way for Emerson. He, too, begins his independent 
studies after a revolt against ecclesiastical authority, 
as narrow and unrealistic. The course of his eman 
cipation is set forth in the Autobiography, where 
he relates his disgust at a sermon on the great text 
in Philippians : "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things 
are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good re 
port, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on 
these things." In expounding this text the clergy 
man confined himself to enjoining scrupulous Sab 
bath observances, respect to ministers, etc., etc. 
"These might," says Franklin, "be all good things; 
but, as they were not the kind of good things that 
I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meet 
ing with them from any other, was disgusted, and 
attended his preaching no more." 

Franklin attended that preaching no more. But 
note what follows, apparently as the consequence 
of his break with the church: "It was about this 
time that I conceived the bold and arduous project 
of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live 
without committing any fault at any time, and to 
conquer all that either natural inclination, custom 
or company might lead me into." Everyone will 
recall how Franklin drew up his table of thirteen 
moral virtues, and how he studied the means for 
putting them into effect. But for us the most signifi- 



EMERSON 91 

cant feature of this enterprise and of his proposed 
Art of Virtue was the realistic spirit in which they 
were conceived, the bold attempt to ground the vir 
tues upon experience rather than upon authority, 
the assertion of the doctrine "that vicious actions 
are not hurtful because they are forbidden, but for 
bidden because they are hurtful, the nature of man 
alone considered" 

Emerson as moralist takes up the work which 
Frnaklin's political duties prevented him from 
carrying out. He repeats Franklin's revolt in the 
name of sincerity, truth, actuality. "Whoso would 
be a man," he declares in "Self-Reliance," "must be 
a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal 
palms must not be hindered by the name of good 
ness, but must explore if it be goodness." He does 
not take up the virtues so methodically and exhaust 
ively as Franklin does. That is mainly because he 
conceives morality to lie in a right condition and 
attitude of the whole self, from which particular 
acts will result with a kind of instinctive and inevi 
table Tightness. "The less a man thinks or knows 
about his virtues," he says in "Spiritual Laws," "the 
better we like him." He concerns himself less with 
particular acts than many less exacting moralists, 
because he demands as the evidence of goodness 
that one's entire life shall be "an alms, a battle, a 
conquest, a medicine." The grand business of the 
moral explorer, as he understands it, is to push past 
conduct to the springs of conduct, to blaze a path' 



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behind the virtues to that general moral power 
which is the source of all the virtues. 

There is a familiar saying of Emerson's which 
would epitomize, if it were understood, most of 
what is important and dynamic in all the Emer 
sonian messages. Taken from its context in the 
essay on "Civilization," it has perhaps been more 
widely quoted than anything else that he uttered. 
Unfortunately one never hears it quoted with any 
sense of what it means in the thought of Emerson, 
where its position is absolutely central. The saying 
is this: "Hitch your wagon to a star." If one asks 
a man from whose lips it has glibly slipped what 
"Hitch your wagon to a star" means, he replies, 
"Aim high," a useful enough maxim of archery, but 
as a moral precept dreadfully trite and unproduc 
tive. What Emerson really means is : Put yourself 
in connection with irresistible power. In the physi 
cal world, let water turn your mill, let steam pull 
your cars, let the atmospheric electricity carry your 
words around the world. "That is the way we are 
strong, by borrowing the might of the elements." 
Likewise in the moral world, go where the gods 
are going, take the direction of all good men and 
let them bear you along, strike into the current of 
the great human traditions, discover the law of your 
higher nature and act with it. Presently you will 
notice that you are no longer fuming at obstacles 
and fretting at your personal impotence, but are 
borne forward like one destined. 



EMERSON 93 

At just this point many stern critics have cried 
out against Emerson as a moral teacher, and have 
charged him with counselling an optimistic passivity. 
Emerson bids us go with the current. The stern 
critic snatches at a figure and comes away with an 
error. Have not all the orthodox doctors taught 
that the good man goes against the current? Such 
misapprehension is the penalty for being a poet 
for not sticking faithfully to the technical jargon. 
Without resorting to that medium, however, it 
should be possible to clear Emerson of the charge 
of counselling a foolish optimism, an indiscreet or 
base passivity. It should, at any rate, be possible to 
clear him in the eyes of any one whose morals have, 
like his, a religious basis for example, in the eyes 
of the sad and strenuous author of that great line : 
"In la sua volontade e nostra pace In his will is 
our peace." The point is, that Emerson does not 
urge us to confide in all currents, to yield to all 
tendencies. It is only after we have arrived by high 
thinking at a proud definition of man that we are 
to take for our motto: "I dare do all that may 
become a man." It is only after we have discovered 
by severe inquisition the law of our higher self that 
we are to trust our instincts and follow our nature. 
We are to be confident and passive. Yes : when we 
are doing the will of God. 

What made Emerson's teaching take hold of his 
contemporaries, what should commend it to us to 
day, is just its unfailingly positive character, the 



94 AMERICANS 

way it supplements by the restoration of classical 
virtues our Christian gospel of long-suffering. There 
is a welcome in it for life, even before the quality 
is disclosed: "Virtue is uneducated power." There 
is a place in it for manly resistance: "Be as benefi 
cent as the sun or the sea, but if your rights as a 
rational being are trenched on, die on the first inch 
of your territory." There is the strong man's relish 
for difficulty and hostility: "We must have antago 
nisms in the tough world for all the variety of our 
spiritual faculties or they will not be born." There 
is precept for use of the spur: "He that rides his 
hobby gently must always give way to him that rides 
his hobby hard." There is warrant for choosing 
one's path: It is a man's "essential virtue to carry 
out into action his own dearest ends, to dare to do 
what he believes and loves. If he thinks a sonnet 
the flower and result of the world, let him sacrifice 
all to the sonnet." Even in his definition of friend 
ship, Emerson drives at action: "He is my friend 
who makes me do what I can." It is obvious that 
he restores ambition, an aspect of magnanimity, to 
its proper place in the formation of the manly char 
acter, ambition to bring one's life to its fullest fruit. 
This accounts for his extraordinary emphasis 
upon the virtue of courage: "It may be safely 
trusted God will not have His work made mani 
fest by cowards." Read from that cue, and pres 
ently you fancy that all forms of virtue appeared 
to him as aspects and phases of courage. He has 



EMERSON 95 

praise for the courage of nonconformity, the cour 
age of inconsistency, the courage of veracity, the 
courage to mix with men, the courage to be alone, 
the courage to treat all men as equals but at this 
thought he remembers his proud conception of man, 
his imagination kindles, and he cries : "Shall I not 
treat all men as gods?" and, elsewhere, "God de 
fend me from ever looking at a man as an animal." 
It sounds like extravagance. It may turn out to be 
a maxim of the higher prudence. Treating men 
like worms has been tried without particularly 
gratifying results. Why not explore the conse 
quences of assuming that men have a nobler des 
tiny? If you are educating a prince, all the classical 
manuals enjoin it upon you to treat him like a prince. 
Why should not this hold of uncrowned sovereigns 
in general? Courage to do these extraordinary 
things Emerson learned of his Aunt Mary Moody 
Emerson, who taught him in his boyhood to face 
whatever he feared. Such courage he praised in his 
last word on Carlyle, "He never feared the face of 
man." 

Moralists present to us in general three distin 
guishable sanctions for the virtuous life, or as Emer 
son would have preferred to call it, the heroic 
life. They may commend conduct as conducive to 
happiness in the future world the theological sanc 
tion. They may commend it as conducive to pleas 
ure or happiness or convenience on earth the 
utilitarian sanction. Or finally they may commend 



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it as in accordance with the proper nature of man 
the humanistic sanction. This is the position taken 
by Marcus Aurelius in a passage extolled by Mat 
thew Arnold. Which of these is Emerson's sanc 
tion? In the essay on "Compensation," which he 
thought one of his prime contributions, he argues 
that divine justice executes itself in this world in 
accordance with inevitable laws. It is essentially 
the argument of Franklin; one is still concerned with 
reward and punishment. But the general tenor of 
Emerson's life and teaching rises above this level. 
Habitually he speaks in the spirit of the Roman 
Emperor, so deeply appealing to the well-born soul: 
U A third in a manner does not even know what he 
has done, but he is like a vine which has produced 
grapes, and seeks for nothing more after it has 
once produced its proper fruit. As a horse when 
he has run, a dog when he has caught the game, 
a bee when it has made its honey, so a man when he 
has done a good act, does not call out for others 
to come and see, but he goes on to another act, 
as a vine goes on to produce again the grapes in 



VI 



Though Emerson had thought much about the 
relation of the individual to society and to the state, 
he was not in any practical diurnal sense of the word 



EMERSON 97 

a politically-minded man. Politics is the art and 
science of governing masses. The art and science 
which appealed to his ambition is that which enables 
the individual to govern himself. So far as he 
was concerned, he felt little need of external govern 
ment. Indeed, like many of the saints and sages, 
conscious that he himself was actuated by the purest 
internal motives, he looked with wary and somewhat 
jealous eye upon the existence of an external con 
trolling power in the state which might be actuated 
by motives far less pure and in the exercise of its 
constituted activity, warp him from the bias of his 
soul. In this respect, he was distinctly a child of 
the time-spirit which followed the Revolution and 
preceded the Civil War, that period when the first 
dire need of a powerful union had passed and the 
second dire need of it had not yet been fully mani 
fested. He could sympathize with his friend 
Thoreau, who withdrew from the social organiza 
tion to the extent of refusing to pay his taxes. But 
his Yankee common sense preserved him from imi 
tating this fanaticism. He perceived, as every in 
telligent lover of freedom does, that a decent con 
formity is the very secret of freedom. 

He loved freedom too much to coquet with 
anarchy. The imaginative masters of his political 
speculations, Plato, More, Milton, Burke, Montes 
quieu, had confirmed him, furthermore, in the con 
viction that "politics rest on necessary foundations, 
and cannot be treated with levity." The foundation 



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of government, he recognized, is in the constitution 
of man: "Every human society wants to be officered 
by the best class, who shall be masters instructed 
in all the great arts of life; shall be wise, temperate, 
brave, public men, adorned with dignity and accom 
plishments." He perceived that it is no true 
function of the philosopher to bring into contempt 
even imperfect instruments of order and liberty till 
better instruments are at hand. 

Like most Americans, however, he had pretty 
much lost respect for government by an hereditary 
aristocracy. He acknowledges the virtues of the 
hereditary principle but with a touch of disdain: 
it has "secured permanence of families, firmness of 
customs, a certain external culture and good taste; 
gratified the ear with historic names." Its defect 
was its failure to make the laws of nature serve it. 
Nature did not cooperate with the system: "the 
heroic father did not surely have heroic sons, and 
still less heroic grandsons; wealth and ease cor 
rupted the race." 

He goes a long way towards accepting the prin 
ciples of the French Revolution. His respect for 
efficient power makes him betray, in Representa 
tive Men, a great admiration for Napoleon Bona 
parte, qualified by grave reservations. He desires, 
with Carlyle, to bring forward a natural aristocracy, 
an aristocracy of talent. He would like to believe 
that democracy is the means for recruiting that 
talent, for organizing the superior class by which 



EMERSON 99 

society needs to be officered. But his study of the 
tyrannies of an "efficient state" administered by 
Napoleonic officers to whose talents a career was 
opened, has awakened in him as it never did in 
Carlyle, a deep suspicion of the "natural method," 
has put him on a criticism of democracy, which is 
the most valuable element in his political writing. 
Might with right, Emerson never confused as 
Carlyle confused them hopelessly; as democracies 
may at any time, under bad leadership, confuse 
them. "Our institutions," he declares in his "Poli 
tics," "though in coincidence with the spirit of the 
age, have not any exemption from the practical de 
fects which have discredited other forms. Every 
actual State is corrupt. Good men must not obey 
the laws too well." His patriotism was free, emanci 
pated. In the year when he became of age, 1824, 
he wrote in his Journal: "I confess I am a little cyni 
cal on some topics, and when a whole nation is 
roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am 
fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and the 
purity of its heart." In his Journal of 1833-5 he 
wrote "the life of this world has a limited worth 
in my eyes, and really is not worth such a price as 
the toleration of slavery." He cried out at the 
land-grabbing of the Mexican War. He spoke re 
peatedly between 1837 and 1861 in behalf of free 
speech, in behalf of emancipating the slaves, and 
in favor of violating the Fugitive Slave Law. 
Against the howling of mobs, as Mr. Woodberry 



100 AMERICANS 

shows in an admirable summary of his participa 
tion in the Anti-slavery movement, "his civic courage 
was flawless." He interrupted his lecture on Hero 
ism in 1838 to praise the brave Lovejoy "who gave 
his breast to the bullets of a mob, for the rights 
of free speech and opinion, and died when it was 
better not to live." He received John Brown in 
Concord, and when two years later the law doomed 
him to die, he declared publicly in Boston that the 
new saint would "make the gallows glorious like 
the cross." 

Efficient nature, the source of political power, 
herself requires to be checked. Where is the check 
to be found? "The wise man is to settle it im 
movably in his mind, that he only is fit to decide 
on his best action; he only is fit to praise it; his 
verdict is praise enough, and as to society, 'their 
hiss is thine applause'" (Journals, 1833-5). The 
contention of parties cannot be trusted to guard the 
interests of truth. Emerson has no naive respect 
for numbers. He has looked with disillusioned eye 
upon the wisdom of majorities. He confides to 
his Journal, for example, that if Jackson is 
elected, "we shall all feel dirty." He says 
that if he were unduly in love with life, he 
would attend a Jackson caucus, and "I doubt not 
the unmixed malignity, the withering selfishness, the 
impudent vulgarity, that mark those meetings would 
speedily cure me of my appetite for longevity." Yet 
despite this bitterness, the Jackson party was, as he 



EMERSON 101 

himself recognized, that towards which his own prin 
ciples and sympathies in theory, broadly popular 
should have inclined him. Speaking for publica 
tion, in his essay on "Politics," he reveals, with less 
asperity, the fact that he is not captivated by either 
party. The paragraph that follows might have been 
written by a disappointed independent of 1920: 

"The vice of our leading parties in this country 
* ;. * is that they do not plant themselves on the 
deep and necessary grounds to which they are re 
spectively entitled. ... Of the two great par 
ties which, at this hour, almost share the nation 
between them, I should say that the one has the best 
cause, and the other contains the best men. The 
philosopher, the poet, or the religious man will, of 
course, wish to cast his vote with the democrat, for 
free-trade, for wide suffrage, for the abolition of 
legal cruelties in the penal code, and for facilitat 
ing in every manner the access of the young and the 
poor to the sources of wealth and power. [My 
italics] . But he can rarely accept the persons whom 
the so-called popular party proposes to him as repre 
sentatives of these liberalities. They have not at 
heart the ends which give to the name of democracy 
what hope and virtue are in it." 

Possibly Emerson's concern for the "unwashed 
masses" forged a bit ahead of his sympathies as a 
man of flesh and blood. Theoretically, he was not 
afraid of dirt. Before Whitman bade us shun "deli- 
catesse," Emerson had perceived that the effective 



102 AMERICANS 

democrat must not be a "high priest of the kid-glove 
persuasion." Writing in his Journal at the age of 
thirty-two, he says : "I would not have a man dainty 
in his conduct. Let him not be afraid of being 
besmirched by being advertised in the newspapers, 
or by going into Athenaeums or town-meetings or 
by making speeches in public. Let his chapel of 
private thoughts be so holy that it shall perfume 
and separate him unto the Lord, though he lay in 
a kennel." 

It ought to be possible to feel "inwardly perfumed 
and separated unto the Lord" without either show 
ing or feeling that Brahminical spirit of exclusive- 
ness which men like Holmes and Lowell exhibited, 
and of which they were obviously proud. Emerson 
was quite earnestly opposed to the celebrated 
Brahminism of Boston and Cambridge. As Mr. 
Brownell has finely said: "A constituent of his 
refinement was an instinctive antipathy to ideas of 
dominance, dictation, patronage, caste, and material 
superiority whose essential grossness repelled him 
and whose ultimate origin in contemptuousness 
probably the one moral state except cravenness that 
chiefly he deemed contemptible was plain enough 
to his penetration." Henry Adams suggests, indeed 
with a touch of characteristic humor, that Emerson, 
from the spiritual altitude of Concord, probably 
looked down on the Brahmins themselves, looked 
down, for instance, on the Adamses, as worldlings. 

Now there is interesting evidence in the Journals 



EMERSON 103 

\ 

that Emerson might have looked down on Henry 
Adams but from a point of view remote from that 
indicated by Adams : 

"I do not forgive in any man this forlorn pride, 
as if he were an Ultimus Romanorum. I am more 
American in my feelings. This country is full of 
people whose fathers were judges, generals, and 
bank presidents, and if all their boys should give 
themselves airs thereon and rest henceforth on the 
oars of their fathers' merit, we should be a sad 
hungry generation. Moreover, I esteem it my best 
birthright that our people are not crippled by family 
and official pride, that the best broadcloth coat in 
the country is put off to put on a blue frock, that 
the best man in town may steer his plough-tail or 
may drive a milk-cart. There is a great deal of 
work in our men, and a false pride has not yet made 
them idle or ashamed. Moreover, I am more 
philosophical than to love this retrospect. I believe 
in the being God, not in the God that has been. I 
work; my fathers may have wrought or rested. 
What have I to do with them, or with the Fellatahs, 
or the great Khan! I know a worthy man who 
walks the streets with silent indignation as a last 
of his race, quite contemptuously eyeing the passing 
multitude." 

Emerson goes farther than that in welcoming 
the "new man," the power without known ante 
cedents. In a notable passage of his Journal for 
1845, one sees him, as it were, shaking off the dust 



104 AMERICANS 

of the house of his fathers, breaking out of the 
old New England, in order to enter America, to 
participate in that national spirit which we know 
today must learn to enfold and assimilate men of 
all races : 

"I hate the narrowness of the Native American 
Party. It is the dog in the manger. It is precisely 
opposite to all the dictates of love and magnanim 
ity; and therefore, of course, opposite to true wis 
dom. . . Man is the most composite of all crea 
tures . . . Well, as in the old burning of the 
Temple at Corinth, by the melting and intermixture 
of silver and gold and other metals a new compound 
more precious than any, called Corinthian brass, 
was formed; so in this continent asylum of all 
nations the energy of Irish, Germans, Swedes, 
Poles, and Cossacks, and all the European tribes 
of the Africans, and of the Polynesians will con 
struct a new race, a new religion, a new state, a new 
literature, which will be as vigorous as the new 
Europe which came out of the smelting-pot of the 
Dark Ages, or that which earlier emerged from the 
Pelasgic and Etruscan barbarism. La Nature aime 
les crolsements" 

No man who honestly and earnestly contemplates 
the making of a nation out of such heterogeneous 
elements as Emerson here enumerates, no man who 
truly cherishes the potentialities of human power, 
wherever they lie, is disposed to assign to political 
agencies an undue part in shaping the product of 



EMERSON 105 

the melting pot. Emerson did not. If we were 
to sum up his attitude towards the state in a single 
sentence, it would take some such form as this : The 
State exists for the benefit of all the individuals in 
it: and its stability and its welfare depend primarily 
on the effort of each individual in it. All concrete 
advance towards social regeneration, he believed, 
is accomplished by minorities by minorities of 
one ! In a country with a strong inclination towards 
beginning all efforts for moral reformation by the 
election of a president and a secretary, he pro 
poses this modest method: "Count from yourself 
in order the persons that have near relation to you 
up to ten or fifteen, and see if you can consider 
your whole relation to each without squirming. 
That will be something." Commenting, in "Life 
and Letters in New England," on a socialistic 
scheme for imposing economic salvation on the 
world from No. 200 Broadway, he surmises that 
it would be better to say: "Let us be lovers and ser 
vants of that which is just, and straighway every 
man becomes a center of a holy and beneficent re 
public, which he sees to include all men in its law, 
like that of Plato and Christ." Let the great state 
arch above us, but let it beware of pressing too near, 
lest it crush more natural and vital powers the 
power of the individual over himself; the power of 
the family, the neighborhood, the town-meeting, the 
local enterprise; the "atmospheric" power of cul 
ture, the gradual and beneficent pressure of a 



106 AMERICANS 

natural society steadily growing stronger by the 
diffusion of science and humane learning. 

The Emersonian doctrine of democratic individ 
ualism has its defects. In these days it appears 
rather homely and old-fashioned. Yet it has merits 
towards which one occasionally turns with nostalgic 
yearnings, merits which may yet restore it to some 
of its former favor. After many a popular election, 
is it not still the chief available consolation to go 
quietly home and close the door and reflect that the 
wise man "occupies all the space between God and 
the mob?" And in spite of all the allurement of 
centralized power, with its promise of prompt and 
"nation-wide" progress in the sense of the men at 
Washington, shall we not find in the years to come 
that the preservation of individuality in the private 
citizen and of pride and initiative in the "parish," the 
province, and the separate states, is as vital to the 
health of the far-flung nation as the use of hands 
and feet? 



VII 



It has ordinarily been assumed and asserted that 
Emerson was very little developed on the aesthetic 
side. This assumption is intimately associated with 
two other popular errors, which, in the light of our 
examination, we may now dismiss. We may first 
dismiss the popular error which holds that the center 



, EMERSON 107 

of his being was ethical; for we have seen that the 
center of his being was religious. We may dismiss, 
also, the popular error of regarding him as a repre 
sentative of Puritan decadence; for we have seen 
that he represents rather a renascence and fresh 
flowering of the ancient passion for self-perfection. 
We think rightly of Emerson when we think of him 
as a humanist bent upon liberating and developing 
not some but all of the properly human powers. He 
builds his many-chambered house of life around a 
private oratory, because like every successfully ex 
ploring humanist, he finds a private oratory at the 
center of his heart. But this innermost shrine of 
religious inspiration is emphatically not a Calvin- 
istic chapel, hostile to the arts. It is a retreat 
friendly to all the Muses that ever haunted Siloa's 
brook or Heliconian springs. 

Emerson believed, indeed, like his great prede 
cessor of the seventeenth century, that the pulsing 
spirit which "voluntary moves harmonious num 
bers" prefers before all temples "the upright heart 
and pure." But no one who has approached that 
inner shrine will ever picture him as summoning the 
Sacred Nine about him in order to give them a les 
son in conduct. No one understands Emerson who 
fails to perceive that he trusts his inspiration, like 
a Pythian prophet, like a celebrant of Dionysian 
mysteries. "If I am the devil's child," he defiantly 
retorted in his youth to one who had urged him to 
beware of his instincts, "I will live from the devil." 



108 AMERICANS 

Well assured that he was not the devil's child, he 
opened communication with his sources of power, 
resolute to receive and utter whatever they sent, 
though it might sound like blasphemy, though it 
might whiff received ethics down the wind. Through 
a great part of his prose and verse, there is the pe 
culiar beat and throb which marks work conceived 
in creative heat, under the sway of the "divine 
madness." Some of the friends who came closest 
to him testified to receiving from him not counsel 
but a sheer access of vital energy exhilarating to the 
verge of intoxication. It is above all a generative 
and fecundating impulse that he seeks for himself. 
It is this above all that he desires to impart to 
others. 

We all tend to slip at times into colorless and 
meaningless routine, into lives of grey commonplace 
and insignificance. Emerson seems to have appre 
hended this as a peril to which our democratic so 
ciety is peculiarly exposed. He cultivates the means 
of combating it. He cultivates, for example, the 
color of Oriental poetry. He follows Hafiz, this 
Unitarian in revolt against the tedium and dead 
level of the cold New England virtue, and cries: 
"Let us be crowned with roses, let us drink wine, and 
break up the tiresome old roof of heaven into new 
forms." He writes an essay on "Inspiration," which 
is a study under ten headings of the technique of 
exaltation, of ecstasy. He chants an ode to Bacchus, 
calling for 



EMERSON 109 

Wine of wine, 

Blood of the world, 

Form of forms, and mould of statures, 

That I intoxicated 

And by the draught assimilated, 

May float at pleasure through all natures. 

Under the heading "Morals" in his discourse on 
"Poetry and Imagination," he comes to the conclu 
sion, entirely characteristic of him, that "Power, 
new power, is the good which the soul seeks." On 
this theme Emerson writes occasionally with a reck 
lessness not often associated with the "Victorian" 
period in America. For power, he intimates in 
"Mithridates," a poet may perhaps well pay with 
his soul: 

Too long shut in strait and few, 
Thinly dieted on dew, 
I will use the world, and sift it, 
To a thousand humors shift it, 
As you spin a cherry. 
O doleful ghosts, and goblins merry! 
O all you virtues, methods, mights, 
Means, appliances, delights, 
Reputed wrongs and braggart rights, 
Smug routine, and things allowed, 
Minorities, things under cloud! 
Hither! take me, use me, fill me, 
Vein and artery, though ye kill me ! 

As a priest of the "being God, not the God that 
has been," Emerson finds that even the greatest of 
the old poets do not wholly content him. As a 



110 AMERICANS 

believer in the doctrine of continuous revelation, he 
demands a new revelation. "In a cotillon," he de 
clares in "Poetry and Imagination," "some persons 
dance and others await their turn when the music 
and the figure come to them. In the dance of God 
there is not one of the chorus but can and will begin 
to spin, monumental as he now looks, whenever the 
music and figure reach his place and duty. O celes 
tial Bacchus! drive them mad this multitude of 
vagabonds, hungry for eloquence, hungry for poetry, 
starving for symbols, perishing for want of elec 
tricity to vitalize this too much pasture, and in the 
long delay indemnifying themselves with the false 
wine of alcohol, of politics, or of money." 

Emerson knew pretty well what he wanted in the 
way of a new poet. He was not in the least inter 
ested in the production of more "parlor or piano 
verse." He wanted such utterance as could come 
only from a great and noble soul immersed in the 
realities and filled with the spirit of the modern 
world. His poet must be radical, revolutionary, 
formative: "Bring us the bards who shall sing all 
our old ideas out of our heads, and new ones in; 
men-making poets . . . poetry which finds its 
rhymes and cadences in the rhymes and iterations 
of nature, and is the gift to men of new images and 
symbols, each the ensign and oracle of an age; that 
shall assimilate men to it, mould itself into religions 
and mythologies, and impart its quality to cen 
turies." In his essay on "The Poet," he regrets that 



EMERSON 111 

"we have yet had no genius in America, with tyran 
nous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable 
materials, and saw, in the barbarism and material 
ism of the times, another carnival of the same gods 
whose picture it so much admires in Homer; then 
in the middle age; then in Calvinism . , v Our 
log-rolling, our stumps and their politics, our fish 
eries, our Negroes, and Indians, our boats, and our 
repudiations, the wrath of rogues, and the pusil 
lanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the 
southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon and 
Texas, are yet unsung. Yet America is a poem 
in our eyes; its ample geography dazzles the imagi 
nation, and it will not wait long for metres." 
Clearly, Emerson was calling for a singer in many 
important respects resembling Whitman ; and Whit 
man answered. 

It is not yet adequately recognized to what extent 
Emerson anticipated not only Whitman but also the 
poets of the present hour. He anticipates their de 
sire to strike up for the new world a new tune. He 
thinks that we leaned too much in the past upon 
England. Our literature has become lifelessly tradi 
tional through uninspired imitation. We require 
some sort of break and shock to liberate our own 
native talents. In an extremely interesting passage 
of the third volume of the Journals, he records the 
surmise that salvation may come from that very 
element which, in politics, he thought of as consti 
tuting the party of unkempt pioneers, barbarians, 



112 AMERICANS 

slave-holders, and corruptionists : "I suppose the 
evil may be cured by this rank rabble party, the 
Jacksonism of the country, heedless of English and 
of all literature a stone cut out of the ground with 
out hands they may root out the hollow dilet 
tantism of our cultivation in the coarsest way, and 
the new born may begin again to frame their own 
world with greater advantage." 

As literary critic, Emerson has, with only an oc 
casional trace of reluctance, the courage of his free 
religion, his philosophy, his politics. His thought 
in these matters underlies and supports his Poetics 
and his Rhetoric. Mystic, symbolist, and demo 
crat, he is constrained to declare that there is no 
vulgar life save that of which the poetry has not yet 
been written. He urges us bravely to paint the 
prospect from our doors, wherever they open. He 
asserts the possibility of all subjects: "A dog 
drawn by a master, or a litter of pigs, satisfies, and 
is a reality not less than the frescoes of Angelo." 
He detests a bookish and fossilized phrase and dic 
tion: "He only is a good writer who keeps one eye 
on his page, and with the other sweeps over things, 
so that every sentence brings in a new contribution 
of observation." He has meditated deeply on im 
age, rhyme, and rhythm; and has discovered the 
literary value of colloquial cadence, the picturesque 
language of children, the scoff and violence of the 
"yeoman," the pungency of natural persons express 
ing their mother-wit. His essays contain more great 



EMERSON 113 

"free verse" than any one has written since. Poems, 
such as "Hamatreya," "Woodnotes," "Monadnoc," 
and "Musketaquid," prove his possession of senses 
tinglingly responsive to the touches of native color, 
scent, and sound; show a poetical nature that has 
struck root and has been richly nourished "in haunts 
which others scorned." As for his general theory 
of art, in his more sanguine and exalted moments 
he goes beyond our most radical leaders in his pas 
sion for reconciling art with nature and restoring 
it to "all the people," so that the ultimate phase of 
artistic development would be an habitual happy 
improvisation. 

That aspiration, as Emerson would have been the 
first to admit, was ideal, was Utopian. It could be 
realized only in a profoundly regenerated and en 
riched society. In this world as it is at present, he 
recognized that great poetry, for example, must be 
the result of special culture and austere discipline. 
It must therefore be submitted for judgment to the 
cultivated and the disciplined. He has no immediate 
intention of accepting the standards of the mob. 
Our radical anti-critical friends would indeed dis 
pose of him as "academic." For he comforts him 
self, in the absence of a national Academy, with this 
reflection, in the second volume of the Journals: 
"Consider the permanence of the best opinion: the 
certainty with which a good book acquires fame, 
though a bad book succeeds better at first. Consider 
the natural academy which the best heads of the 



114 AMERICANS 

time constitute, and which 'tis pleasant to see, act 
almost as harmoniously and efficiently, as if they 
were organized and acted by vote." 

For a writer who is often classified nowadays as 
a "mere moralist," Emerson liberated an extraordi 
nary number of ideas about both the major and the 
minor problems of the literary art. You may say, 
if you like, that his literary scrupulousness is but an 
aspect of his moral rectitude; but any other writer 
of his exacting artistic conscience would be saluted 
by all the anti-Puritans as a "lover of beauty," a 
"martyr of style." In 1831, long before Flaubert 
or Pater had announced it, he committed to his 
Journal the doctrine of the "unique word:" "No 
man can write well who thinks there is any choice 
of words for him. The laws of composition are as 
strict as those of sculpture and architecture. There 
is always one line that ought to be drawn, or one 
proportion that should be kept, and every other line 
or proportion is wrong, and so far wrong as it 
deviates from this. So in writing, there is always 
a right word, and every other than that is wrong. 
There is no beauty in words except in their colloca 
tion. The effect of a fanciful word misplaced, is 
like that of a horn of exquisite polish growing on 
a human head." 

Economy, Emerson regards as the poet's chastity: 
"Let the poet, of all men, stop with his inspiration. 
The inexorable rule in the muses' court, either in 
spiration or silence, compels the bard to report only 



EMERSON 115 

his supreme moments. It teaches the enormous 
force of a few words and in proportion to the in 
spiration checks loquacity." Despite his desire for 
fresh beginnings in America, he finds it necessary 
to turn back to the old English writers, "not because 
they are old, but simply because they wrote well. 
If we write as well, we may deviate from them and 
our deviations shall be classical." Every one, it is 
to be hoped, remembers the little poem called "The 
Test," in which Emerson challenges his reader to 
find the "five lines" in his verses which outlasted 
five hundred. It is a virtue in him, which our pres 
ent loquacity should some day make esteemed, that 
he so often anticipates the winnowing of time, as 
in the firm Landorian carving of the Concord Hymn 
with its cumulative solemnity, reaching its climax 
in the breathless pause of the flawless final stanza, 
before the ultimate foot: 

Spirit, that made those heroes dare 
To die, and leave their children free, 
Bid Time and Nature gently spare 
The shaft we raise to them and thee. 

The popular taste in poetry, as is proved by many 
of the great reputations, is a little waterish. Emer 
son served "wine of wine." He has been underrated 
as a poet because he did not understand, or would 
not practice, dilution. One suspects that he might 
be reinstated if some student of Japanese verse 
would display in a wide-margined volume some fifty 



116 AMERICANS 

or a hundred of his "images," selected here and 
there from his baskets of cut gems, for example: 

I am a willow of the wilderness 
Loving the wind that bent me. 

Or possibly the reviver of Emerson should remind 
the Chicago School of these lines: 

Bulkeley, Hunt, Willard, Hosmer, Meriam, Flint, 
Possessed the land which rendered to their toil 
Hay, corn, roots, hemp, flax, apples, wool and wood. 

Critics have sufficiently harped upon certain de 
fects in the prose style of Emerson: the apparent 
lack of firm design and evolution in the larger divi 
sions of his discourse; the difficult transitions, the 
imperfect coherence, within the paragraphs. It is 
perhaps worth observing that some of these faults 
are closely connected with his characteristic virtues, 
and are truly due to the excess of these virtues. 
Emerson is characteristically rich and economical. 
He is so rich that he can put into a sentence as much 
as another would put into a paragraph, and as much 
into a paragraph as another would put into his en 
tire discourse. He is so economical of space, so 
bent on filling every inch with solid matter, that he 
deliberately prunes away what is merely explanatory 
and transitional. If one compares passages in the 
Journals with parallel passages in the essays, one 
remarks at first with surprise that the superiority 



EMERSON 117 

on the side of fluency and texture is frequently with 
the Journals. The superiority of the essays is in 
condensation and intensity. 

It should be observed, furthermore, that in the 
prose which Emerson himself published the degree 
of fluency and stylistic coherence varies greatly with 
the subject. The moral essays, such as "Self- 
Reliance" and "Compensation," are written more or 
less in the manner of the Book of Proverbs or the 
Essays of Bacon. They are built of distinct in 
junctions, maxims, and fragments of wisdom, twenty 
or thirty of them to a paragraph. "Solid bags of 
duckshot," Carlyle called these paragraphs, and 
urged Emerson to fuse them into a solid luminous 
bar. They are close packed enough, in all con 
science, without fusion. There is stuff enough for 
a morning's meditation in any half-dozen of the 
hundreds of maxims which make up the essay 
on Self-Reliance. But no ordinary mind can read 
easily page after page of epitomized moral experi 
ence: "Be it how it will, do right now. Always scorn 
appearances, and you always may. The force of 
character is cumulative. All the foregone days 
of virtue work their health into this." Before such 
matter can be made to flow, it must be diluted. 
Read in youth and for the first time, a page of such 
writing seems pebbly and difficult. But at each 
re-reading one discovers more pebbles that are inter 
estingly translucent, opalescent, with a fire at the 
heart of them. Returning later in life, after per- 



118 AMERICANS 

haps the twentieth reading, one may discover that 
the pattern in the page comes out, that the gaps are 
bridged by one's own experience, that each sentence 
is illustrated by one's own verification of it, and that 
somehow this swift "saltation" from epitome to 
epitome of moral wisdom makes all other moral 
writing seem thin and flat. 

But Emerson has many other prose manners, to 
which the stock criticisms and the traditional jests 
are not at all applicable. Turn, for example, to his 
"Thoreau," a biographical portrait executed in the 
firm objective manner of Suetonious yet with the 
gusto of Plutarch a superbly vital piece of char 
acterization, unsurpassed if not unequalled by any 
thing of like scope in American literature. Or con 
sider the flow of his reminiscences of Brook Farm 
and his bland comment on Fourierism in Life and 
Letters in New England; it is beautiful writing, 
urbane, luminous, exquisitely ironical. Or for still 
another vein, turn to the pages in English Traits 
where he describes meeting Thomas Carlyle, with 
something of the Scotch master's graphic force : 

On my return, I came from Glasgow to Dum 
fries, and being intent on delivering a letter which 
I had brought from Rome, inquired for Craigenput- 
tock. It was a farm in Nithdale, in the parish of 
Dumscore, sixteen miles distant. No public coach 
passed near it, so I took a private carriage from the 
inn. I found the house amid heathery hills, where 
the lonely scholar nourished his mighty heart. Car- 



EMERSON 119 

lyle was a man from his youth, an author who did 
not need to hide from his readers, and as absolute a 
man of the world, unknown and exiled on that hill- 
farm as if holding on his own terms what is best in 
London. He was tall and gaunt, with a cliff-like 
brow, self possessed and holding his extraordinary 
powers of conversation in easy command; clinging 
to his northern accent with evident relish; full of 
lively anecdote, and with a streaming humor, which 
floated everything he looked upon. 

If Emerson writes comparatively little in the 
descriptive and narrative veins, it is neither from 
impotence nor by chance but on consideration. "Do 
you see," he asks himself, "what we preserve of his 
tory? a few anecdotes of a moral quality of some 
momentary act or word." The word of Canute on 
the sea-shore, he observes, is all the world remem 
bers of the Danish conquest. Under the influence of 
this thought, he seems, for a time, to have meditated 
composing "a modern Plutarch," British and Amer 
ican in which his "Thoreau" would well have 
taken the place of Cato, and his "Lincoln" a place 
of its own. His Representative Men was a par 
tial fulfilment of the design. But quite early in life 
Emerson was much occupied by a rival thought, thus 
recorded in the fourth volume of the Journals: "I 
said to Bryant and to these young people, that the 
high poetry of the world from the beginning has 
been ethical, and it is the tendency of the ripe mod 
ern mind to produce it. . . .. As, I think, no 
man could be better occupied than in making up his 



120 AMERICANS 

own bible by hearkening to all those sentences which 
now here, now there, now in nursery rhymes, now 
in Hebrew, now in English bards, thrill him like 
the sound of a trumpet." In fulfilment of that de 
sign Emerson wrote his great essays. 

To many a lonely student, obscure and friendless, 
meditating in the long cold spring and adolescence 
of his talent on his untried powers, Emerson has 
come as with the sound of a magical trumpet, shat 
tering the dungeons of fear, sending the young 
knight on his quest inwardly fortified and resolute 
to give soul and body to that undertaking, what 
ever it may be, for which he was sent into the world. 
Such is the primary function of the religious and 
democratic ethos with which he sought to impreg 
nate American letters. He, too, had been lonely, 
obscure, uncertain of his way, feeble, and prone 
to husband his strength and gifts. But when he 
found which way the planets are going and the well 
where the gods drink, he faltered no longer. "What 
a discovery I made one day, that the more I spent 
the more I grew, that it was as easy to occupy a 
large place and do much work as an obscure place 
to do little; and that in the winter in which I com 
municated all my results to classes, I was full of 
new thoughts." To this, let us add that other 
thought, so precious to him that it appears repeat 
edly in various forms in the Journals and in the 
essays: "If a man knows the law, he may settle 
himself in a shanty in a pine forest, and men will 



EMERSON 121 

and must find their way to him as readily as if he 
lived in the City Hall." We shall keep near the 
main stream of Emersonian virtue, if we close with 
a variation and enlargement of the same theme: 
"Penetrate to the bottom of the fact that draws 
you, although no newspaper, no poet, no man, has 
ever yet found life and beauty in that region, and 
presently when men are whispered by the gods to 
go and hunt in that direction, they shall find that 
they cannot get to the point which they would reach 
without passing over that highway which you have 
built. Your hermit's lodge shall be the Holy City 
and the Fair of the whole world." 



HAWTHORNE: A PURITAN CRITIC OF 
PURITANISM 

Of that group of eminent New Englanders who 
made American literature in the middle of the last 
century it has become the fashion among our youth 
to speak with a certain condescension as of country 
cousins or old friends outgrown. Since Emerson 
and Lowell and Holmes and the other worthies of 
the age laid the author of The Scarlet Letter to rest 
in Sleepy Hollow, new generations have arisen, who 
have looked for a less austere leadership than New 
England followed, and for interpreters of appetites 
and passions in human nature which the "spiritual 
patricians" of an elder time deliberately suppressed 
and disdainfully ignored. Our literary historians 
tell us that the "national period" has arrived, and 
that in the widened domain of our letters the voices 
of the "Puritan aristocracy" must inevitably sound 
somewhat thin and provincial. Under the influence 
of European example our authors, particularly our 
novelists, are learning to overcome the Anglo-Saxon, 
or rather the Victorian, diffidence. In the choice 
and treatment of their themes they enjoy a liberty 

122 



HAWTHORNE 123 

which neither public opinion nor private conscience 
granted to the novelist of 1850; and with the new 
freedom and the tolerant national public, they are 
supposed to have become more secular, more sensu 
ous, more erudite, and, above all, more vital and 
realistic. 

To whatever disadvantages New England birth 
and breeding exposes the artist, Hawthorne was ex 
posed. Born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804, he 
had in his veins the blood of Puritans, counted a 
witch-hanging judge among his ancestors, and was 
probably the first of his line who did not regard 
the writing and reading of romances as idleness and 
vanity. After nearly all his important literary work 
was done he saw something of England and Italy, 
but his experience till late in life was provincial, 
not to say parochial, and he himself avowed that 
New England was as large a lump of earth as his 
sympathies could embrace. The society of his 
native town he found so unremunerative or so for 
midable that he lived there for twelve years, fol 
lowing his graduation from Bowdoin, in virtual 
solitude, writing in obscurity and publishing anony 
mously the stories later collected as Twice Told 
Tales. In personal relations he ordinarily exhibited 
a taciturnity and reserve no doubt fostered by his 
hermit years but alleged to be characteristic of those 
who live too steadily by the "rockbound coast." 
In his art he maintained a reticence about many 
things which are now cried from the housetops. He 



124 AMERICANS 

lacked the stimulus of fellow-workers in his own 
kind, and he labored in a romantic vein which even 
in his own day was on the point of appearing old- 
fashioned. Associated with an intellectual move 
ment animated by an hereditary passion for right 
eousness, he was interested in the moral significance 
of his narratives; and his moral sympathies are said 
to have been at least deeply tinged with what the 
impatient young people of our day impatiently, not 
to say wrathfully, designate as Puritanism. 

It should follow that his treatment of forbidden 
love has been quite overshadowed by the master 
pieces of successors working with so many superi 
orities of circumstance and method. But as a mat 
ter of fact The Scarlet Letter appears to be as safe 
from competitors as Pilgrim's Progress or Robinson 
Crusoe. It is recognized as the classical treatment 
of its particular theme. Its symbols and scenes of 
guilt and penitence the red letter on the breast 
of Hester Prynne, Arthur Dimmesdale on the scaf 
fold have fixed themselves in the memory of men 
like the figure of Crusoe bending over the footprint 
in the sand, and have become a part of the common 
stock of images like Christian facing the lions in 
the way. When a book has achieved this sort of 
celebrity, it needs ask for nothing more; it has en 
tered into immortal life, and passes through all 
changes of fashion unscathed. But Hawthorne and 
this book have won the critical as well as the popu 
lar tribute. Nearly thirty years after the publica- 



HAWTHORNE 125 

tion of The Scarlet Letter, Henry James, the most 
fastidious and the most sophisticated of critics, de 
clared him to be "the most valuable example of 
the American genius," and The Scarlet Letter the 
finest specimen of his art. And in 1909, Mr. W. C. 
Brownell, an exacting critic, as free from suspicion 
of indulgence to the New England school as Henry 
James and more severe than James in his attitude 
towards Hawthorne's general reputation, finds this 
scarlet leaf among his withered laurels undamaged 
by the ruinous touch of time or rival splendors. 

With the most restricted permanent glory Haw 
thorne himself would certainly have been better con 
tented than with the widest transitory blaze. If he 
has left one book that cannot die, it is rather idle 
to make a pathetic story of his straitened circum 
stances and the narrow field in which his beautiful 
talent was perfected. Had he lived in a great 
literary center, kept his mind brisk by frequent in 
tercourse with men of letters, and enriched his 
stores by travel and observation of various societies 
in the "grand style," his productiorTmight have been 
more abundant; it would probably have had more 
of the realistic virtue so highly valued at present; 
but it is doubtful whether it would have included 
The Scarlet Letter or the other works in which we 
recognize his special and unique quality. For the 
charm, with difficulty definable, which pervades his 
best writing is due to the felt presence of a subtle 
and exquisite spirit that has dwelt apart from the 



126 AMERICANS 

throng in still and shadowed places, preserving with 
a kind of virginal jealousy its own internal vision 
of beauty, its own internal scale of values. If we 
value him in proportion as he approaches the inter 
ests and methods of contemporary realism, we miss 
what is most precious in him, namely, his power of 
reducing the insolent pretensions of circumstance to 
insignificance, and of giving to the moral and ideal 
world reality, importance, and supreme interest. 

Hawthorne was at times a close and shrewd ob 
server of external fact, but he did not dwell habitu 
ally in the world of external fact, and other men 
have far surpassed him in their notation of man 
ners and the visible aspects of nature. External 
nature he tended to regard as hieroglyphic and sym 
bolical. It engaged his attention chiefly for the cor 
respondences which he could discern between it and 
the forms and relations of his ideas. His note 
books are full of brief jottings of apparently trivial 
scenes and incidents intended to serve as starting 
points for his interpretive imagination: "A cloud in 
the shape of an old woman kneeling, with arms ex 
tended towards the moon." "An old looking-glass. 
Somebody finds out the secret of making all the 
images that have been reflected in it pass back again 
across its surface." "A person to catch fireflies, and 
try to kindle his household fire with them. It would 
be symbolical of something." Underlying this 
search for ulterior meanings and spiritual signifi 
cances there was doubtless in Hawthorne a certain 



HAWTHORNE 127 

disdain for primary meanings, for the immediate 
gross reports of the senses. His imagination he 
sets continually at work contriving an avenue of 
escape from the vulgar and the humdrum. On a 
fine day in February he notes as follows the aspira 
tion of the poor wingless biped man to raise him 
self a little above the earth: "How much mud and 
mire, how many pools of unclean water, how many 
slippery foot-steps, and perchance heavy tumbles, 
might be avoided, if one could tread but six inches 
above the crust of this world. Physically we cannot 
do this; our bodies cannot; but it seems to me that 
our hearts and minds may keep themselves above 
moral mudpuddles and other discomforts of the 
soul's pathway." 

To the development of his peculiar imaginative 
faculty it would not be difficult to show that his 
circumstances, far from being inauspicious, were 
highly favorable as favorable, perhaps, as exile 
in Ireland was to his favorite poet, the author of 
The Faerie Queene. Solitude drives the hungry 
man to intensive cultivation of the inner life, and 
a plain domicile reminds him of the necessity of 
building for his soul a more stately mansion. After 
his engagement to Sophia Peabody, looking back in 
1840 upon the long lonely years when he was learn 
ing his art in the locked room in Salem, he feels 
the pathos of his earnest and externally cheerless 
prime, and yet he testifies, in a passage deeply mov 
ing and beautiful, that those were the richest and 



128 AMERICANS 

happiest years of his life till love transformed it; 
and in the quiet exultation of the new emotion he 
blesses them still because they made and kept him 
fit for the transformation: 

. . . Here I sit in my old accustomed cham 
ber, where I used to sit in days gone by. . . . 
Here I have written many tales many that have 
been burned to ashes, many that doubtless deserved 
the same fate. This claims to be called a haunted 
chamber, for thousands upon thousands of visions 
have appeared to me in it; and some few of them 
have become visible to the world. If ever I should 
have a biographer, he ought to make great mention 
of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of 
my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind 
and character were formed; and here I have been 
glad and hopeful, and here I have been despondent. 
And he^'e I sat a long, long time, waiting patiently 
for the world to know me, and sometimes wondering 
why it did not know me sooner, or whether it would 
ever know me at all at least, till I were in my 
grave. And sometimes it seemed as if I were al 
ready in the grave, with only life enough to be 
chilled and benumbed. But oftener I was happy 
at least as happy as I then knew how to be, or was 
aware of the possibility of being. By and by, the 
world found me out in my lonely chamber, and 
called me forth not, indeed, with a loud roar of 
acclamation, but rather with a still, small voice 
and forth I went, but found nothing in the world 
that I thought preferable to my old solitude till 
now. . . . And now I begin to understand why I 
was imprisoned so many years in this lonely cham 
ber, and why I could never break through the view- 



HAWTHORNE 129 

less bolts and bars; for if I had sooner made escape 
into the world, I should have grown hard and rough, 
and been covered with earthly dust, and my heart 
might have become callous by rude encounters with 
the multitude, . . . but living in solitude till the 
fulness of time was come, I still kept the dew of 
my youth and the freshness of my heart. ... I 
used to think I could imagine all passions, all feel 
ings, and states of the heart and mind; but how 
little did I know! . . . Indeed, we are but 
shadows; we are not endowed with real life, and 
all that seems most real about us is but the thinnest 
substance of a dream till the heart be touched. 
That touch creates us then we begin to be 
thereby we are beings of reality and inheritors of 
eternity x 

By the time he was appointed weigher and gauger 
at the Boston Custom House, in 1839, Hawthorne 
had learned to live, somewhat according to the 
Emersonian injunction, in business, if not in society, 
with his hands and in solitude with his head and 
heart. One who reads in the American Note-Books 
his memoranda of that period cannot fail to be im 
pressed with the fact that his thraldom and drudg 
ery and the sordidness of his daily occupation inten 
sified his delight in his inner freedom and perfected 
it. All day long he measures coal in a black little 
British schooner, in a dismal dock at the north end 
of the city. He thinks that his profession is some 
what akin to that of a chimney-sweeper. He grieves 



1 American Note-Books, October 4, 1840. 



130 AMERICANS 

occasionally at the havoc it makes with his wits 
and at the waste of blessed hours; yet he thanks it 
for teaching him to "know a politician," and to ac 
quit himself like a man in a world of men. Then 
this strange coal-gauger walks home under the 
cloud-rack of a scattered storm "so glorious in 
deed, and so lovely, that I had a fantasy of heaven's 
being broken into fleecy fragments and dispersed 
through space, with its blest inhabitants dwelling 
blissfully upon those scattered islands." He enters 
his room and lies down to read his Spenser, or 
records in his journal some such half-mystical ex 
perience as this: "Besides the bleak, unkindly air, 
I have been plagued by two sets of coal-shovellers 
at the same time, and have been obliged to keep 
two separate tallies simultaneously. But I was con 
scious this was merely a vision and a fantasy, and 
that, in reality, I was not half frozen by the bitter 
blast, nor tormented by those grimy coal-heavers; 
but that I was basking quietly in the sunshine of 
eternity. . . . Any sort of bodily and earthly tor 
ment may serve to make us sensible that we have 
a soul that is not within the jurisdiction of such 
shadowy demons, it separates the immortal within 
us from the mortal." 2 

It was doubtless in the hope of bringing the inner 
and the outer worlds into harmony that Hawthorne 
in the spring of 1841 joined the socialistic commu- 



9 American Note-Books, April 7, 1840. 



HAWTHORNE 131 

nity at Brook Farm, an adventure commemorated 
in his Blithedale Romance. His sojourn among 
these interesting Utopians seems to have dispelled 
the hope and to have confirmed his instinctive deep- 
seated individualism. It is significant that Clover- 
dale even at Brook Farm retreats from his social 
istic brethren to a hermitage in a circumjacent wood 
"It symbolized my individuality, and aided me 
in keeping it inviolate." "The real Me," Haw 
thorne declared later, "was never an associate of 
the community; there has been a spectral Appear 
ance there, sounding the horn at daybreak, and 
milking the cows, and hoeing potatoes, and raking 
hay, toiling in the sun, and doing me the honor to 
assume my name. But this spectre was not my 
self." 8 The effort to externalize felicity and to 
make of it common property impressed him on the 
whole as a failure, renewing in him the old passion 
for seclusion in which "to think, to feel, to dream." 
His cutting private judgment of Margaret Fuller, 
the Zenobia of The Blithedale Romance, represents 
his mature conviction that beauty and perfectness 
of character result from the gradual unfolding of 
some innermost germ of divine grace, and are un 
attainable by mechanical means and local applica 
tions. As this passage illustrates forcibly an aspect 
of Hawthorne ordinarily little emphasized, his occa 
sionally severe and penetrating critical faculty, it 



* Moncure Conway's Hawthorne, p. 89. 



132 AMERICANS 

may be quoted here to offset our emphasis upon his 
tendency to revery and fantasy : 

She was a person anxious to try all things, and 
fill up her experience in all directions; she had a 
strong and coarse nature, which she had done her 
utmost to refine, with infinite pains; but of course 
it could only be superficially changed. The solution 
of the riddle lies in this direction; nor does one's 
conscience revolt at the idea of thus solving it; for 
(at least, this is my own experience) Margaret has 
not left in the hearts and minds of those who knew 
her any deep witness of her integrity and purity. 
She was a great humbug, of course with much 
talent and much moral reality, or else she could 
never have been so great a humbug. But she had 
stuck herself full of borrowed qualities, which she 
chose to provide herself with, but which had no root 
in her. ... It was such an awful joke, that she 
should have resolved in all sincerity, no doubt 
to make herself the greatest, wisest, best woman of 
the age. And to that end she set to work on her 
strong, heavy, unpliable, and, in many respects, de 
fective and evil nature, and adorned it with a mo 
saic of admirable qualities, such as she chose to 
possess; putting in here a splendid talent and there 
a moral excellence, and polishing each separate 
piece, and the whole together, till it seemed to shine 
afar and dazzle all who saw it. She took credit to 
herself for having been her own Redeemer, if not 
her own Creator; and, indeed, she was far more 
a work of art than any of Mozier's statues. But 
she was not working on an inanimate substance, 
like marble or clay; there was something within her 
that she could not possibly come at, to re-create or 



HAWTHORNE 133 

refine it; and, by and by, this rude old potency be 
stirred itself, and undid all her labor in the twink 
ling of an eye. On the whole, I do not know, but 
I like her the better for it; because she proved her 
self a very woman after all, and fell as the weakest 
of her sisters might. 4 

After his departure from Brook Farm, Haw 
thorne married that fine intelligent Emersonian 
woman Sophia Peabody, July 9, 1842, and lived 
for the next four years at the Old Manse in Con 
cord. There in former days, as he remembers in 
the quietly rapturous introduction to Mosses from 
an Old Manse, Emerson had written Nature; "for 
he was then an inhabitant of the Manse, and used 
to watch the Assyrian dawn and Paphian sunset and 
moonrise from the summit of our eastern hill." For 
Hawthorne it was a return from an uncomfortable 
hot-bed of culture to Eden, and he was accustomed 
indeed to speak of himself and his wife at that 
period as Adam and Eve. In a serene felicity of 
mutual understanding and perfect sympathy they 
dwelt in their solitude a deux, each sufficient for the 
other, though occasionally he would hunt Indian 
arrowheads or water lilies with Thoreau and Ellery 
Channing, or they would meet Emerson "in the 
woodpaths, or sometimes in our avenue, with that 
pure, intellectual gleam diffused about his presence 
like the garment of a shining one; and he, so quiet, 



4 Extract from Roman Journal quoted in Nathaniel Hawthorne 
and His Wife, by Julian Hawthorne, 1889, vol. I, pp. 260 ff. 



134 AMERICANS 

so simple, so without pretension, encountering each 
man alive as if expecting to receive more than he 
could impart." At another period, he says, "I, too, 
might have asked of this prophet the master word 
that would solve me the riddle of the universe, 
but now, being happy, I felt as if there were no , 
question to be put, and therefore admired Emerson 
as a poet of deep beauty and austere tenderness, 
but sought nothing from him as a philosopher." 

This deep happiness of the Hawthornes, as 
nearly perfect as any recorded in literature, this 
happiness that asked little of friends or fortune or 
metaphysical philosophy, was in truth for both of 
them the fruit of solitude, the reward of a pro 
longed silent discipline in living, as the Transcen- 
dentalists would say, "in the Ideal," a discipline that 
determined the level of their meeting and enabled 
them, when they were united, to maintain without 
effort their ideal relations. To her in 1839, in the 
days of their engagement, he had written: "I never, 
till now, had a friend who could give me repose; 
all have disturbed me, and, whether for pleasure 
or pain, it was still disturbance. But peace over 
flows from your heart into mine. Then I feel that 
there is a Now, and that Now must be always calm 
and happy, and that sorrow and evil are but phan 
toms that seem to flit across it." Of him, in Octo 
ber, 1842, she writes to her mother: "His will is 

6 Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife, vol. I, p. 203. 



HAWTHORNE 135 

strong, but not to govern others. He is so simple, 
so just, so tender, so magnanimous, that my highest 
instinct could only correspond with his will. I never 
knew such delicacy of nature. His panoply of re 
serve is a providential shield and breastplate. . . . 
He is completely pure from earthliness. He is 
under the dominion of his intellect and sentiments. 
Was ever such a union of power and gentleness, 
softness and spirit, passion and reason?" 6 As this 
was written but two or three months after mar 
riage, it may be subject to interpretation as the 
sweet effusion of an uncritical young bride. But 
living with one's husband eight years on a few hun 
dred dollars a year ordinarily makes an adequate 
critic of the most emotional bride. Hear this same 
witness eight years later : 

He is as severe as a stoic about all personal 
comforts, and never in his life allowed himself a 
luxury. It is exactly upon him, therefore, that I 
would like to shower luxuries, because he has such 
a spiritual taste for beauty. It is both wonderful 
and admirable to see how his taste for splendor and 
perfection is not the slightest temptation to him; 
how wholly independent he is of what he would 
like, all things being equal. Beauty and the love 
of it, in him, are the true culmination of the good 
and true, and there is no beauty to him without 
these bases. He has perfect dominion over himself 
in every respect, so that to do the highest, wisest, 
loveliest thing is not the least effort to him, any 

'Ibid., pp. 271-2. 



136 AMERICANS 

more than it is to a baby to be innocent. ... I 
never knew such loftiness, so simply borne. I have 
never known him to stoop from it in the most trivial 
household matter, any more than in a larger or 
more public one. If the Hours make out to reach 
him in his high sphere, their wings are very strong. 
But I have never thought of him as in time, and 
so the Hours have nothing to do with him. Happy, 
happiest is the wife who can bear such and so sin 
cere testimony to her husband after eight years' 
intimate union. 7 

Is this the portrait of a Puritan? If Puritanism 
means, as many of our over-heated young people 
would have it mean, fear of ecclesiastical and social 
censure, slavish obedience to a rigorous moral code, 
a self-torturing conscience, harsh judgments of the 
frailties of one's fellows, morbid asceticism, insensi 
bility and hostility to the beauties of nature and art, 
Hawthorne was as little of a Puritan as any man 
that ever lived. But if Puritanism in America means 
to-day what the lineal and spiritual descendants of 
the Puritans exemplified at their best in Emerson's 
New England emancipation from ecclesiastical 
and social oppression, escape from the extortion of 
the senses and the tyranny of things, a conscious 
ness at least partly liberated from the impositions 
of space and time, freedom for self-dominion, a 
hopeful and exultant effort to enter into right, and 
noble, and harmonious relations with the highest 
impulses of one's fellows, and a vision, a love, a 



*Ibid., pp. 372-3. 



HAWTHORNE 137 

pursuit of the beauty which has its basis in "the 
good and true" if Puritanism means these things, 
then Hawthorne was a Puritan. If, however, our 
young people will not permit us to use the term in 
this high derivative sense, if they persist in employ 
ing it as a term of dire derogation, then let us call 
Hawthorne a Transcendentalist, let us call him a 
subtle critic and satirist of Puritanism from the 
Transcendental point of view. But let us make this 
concession to our over-heated young people with a 
strict understanding that in return they shall abjure 
their ill custom of applying to a fanatic or to a 
starched hypocrite the same term that they apply 
to Emerson. If Puritanism is to mean what they 
would have it, they must cease and refrain entirely 
from referring to the leaders of the Renaissance In 
New England as Puritans. The essence of that 
movement of which Hawthorne is an admirable 
representative is a deliverance from the letter of 
the law and a recovery of happiness through the 
right uses of the imagination. 

The close relationship between Hawthorne's 
Transcendental point of view and the character of 
his fiction has hardly received the attention that it 
deserves. Henry James, who can with difficulty 
forgive him for not being a realist, declares that 
"he was not a man with a literary theory," and 
goes on to complain that "he has been almost culpa 
bly indifferent to his opportunities for commemo 
rating the variations of colloquial English that may 



138 AMERICANS 

be observed in the New World." But there is 
abundant evidence that Hawthorne was conscious 
of the realistic method and that he deliberately re 
jected it. What should a man whose wife "never 
thought of him as in time" care for the variations 
of colloquial English in the New World? It is very 
clear that he sought to winnow out of his fiction 
everything that can be brought or carried away by 
the Hours. His literary theory becomes explicit 
enough in his exquisite chapter on "Lichfield and 
Uttoxeter" in Our Old Home. He had made a 
pilgrimage "to indulge a solemn and high emotion" 
to the scene of Samuel Johnson's penance in the 
market place of Uttoxeter. Arrived at the spot 
where his pious errand should have been consum 
mated, he confesses that his first act was to step 
into a hostelry and order a dinner of bacon and 
greens, mutton-chops, gooseberry pudding, and ale 
"a sufficient meal for six yeomen." On enquiry 
he finds the Doctor's fellow-townsmen generally un 
acquainted with the story which had consecrated 
the place "in the heart of a stranger from three 
thousand miles over the sea." And his own emo 
tions remain unstirred till he has left the visible 
Uttoxeter behind him and returned to the Uttox 
eter of his inner vision. His comment on this inci 
dent may serve us as a commentary on his literary 
method: 

A sensible man had better not let himself be 
betrayed into these attempts to realize the things 



HAWTHORNE 139 

which he has dreamed about, and which, when they 
cease to be purely ideal in his mind, will have lost 
the truest of their truth, the loftiest and profoundest 
part of their power over his sympathies. Facts, as 
we really find them, whatever poetry they may in 
volve, are covered with a stony excrescence of prose, 
resembling the crust on a beautiful sea-shell, and 
they never show their most delicate and divinest 
colors until we shall have dissolved away their 
grosser actualities by steeping them long in a power 
ful menstruum of thought. And seeking to actualize 
them again, we do but renew the crust. If this were 
otherwise if the moral sublimity of a great fact 
depended in any degree on its garb of external 
circumstances, tnings which change and decay it 
could not itself be immortal and ubiquitous, and 
only a brief point of time and a little neighborhood 
would be spiritually nourished by its grandeur and 
beauty." 

When Hawthorne was settled in the Old Manse, 
an abode so happily adapted to his still contempla 
tive habit, he had pondered, he intimates, various 
grave literary projects, and had "resolved at least 
to achieve a novel that should evolve some deep 
lesson and should possess physical substance enough 
to stand alone." He wrote there some of his finest 
short stories, "The Birthmark," "Young Goodman 
Brown," "Rappaccini's Daughter," "Roger Mal- 
vin's Burial," "The Artist of the Beautiful"; but 
the production of his novel was to take place 'in 
another scene and under a rather singular stimulus. 
By 1846 the prospect of being able to make both 



140 AMERICANS 

ends meet in Concord was so unpromising that to 
relieve himself of the anxiety occasioned by his 
small debts and his keen sense of obligation he ob 
tained appointment as surveyor of customs at Salem. 
How he meditated Hester Prynne's story as he 
passed "with a hundred-fold repetition, the long 
extent from the front-door of the Custom-House to 
the side entrance, and back again," he has told in 
his fascinating introductory chapter. And there he 
admits that despite his long practice in creative 
revery he found himself not wholly independent of 
circumstances and "atmospheric" conditions. His 
imagination was dimmed, and the shadowy crea 
tures of his dream turned upon him and said: 
"What have you to do with us? The little power 
you might once have possessed over the tribe of 
unrealities is gone I You have bartered it for a pit 
tance of the public gold. Go, then, and earn your 
wages." After three years of service, which we 
understand was efficiently performed, the politicians 
turned him out of office. Him the dismissal appears 
to have filled temporarily with chagrin and a meas 
ure of bitterness; but Mrs. Hawthorne, in her ad 
mirable superiority to the loss of their visible means 
of support, showed herself at this crisis a guardian 
angel or at least a more finished Transcendentalist 
than her husband. Let us have this beautiful inci 
dent as reported by George Parsons Lathrop : 

On finding himself superseded, he walked away 
from the Custom-House, returned home, and enter- 



HAWTHORNE 141 

ing sat down in the nearest chair, without uttering 
a word. Mrs. Hawthorne asked him if he was well. 

"Well enough," was the answer. 

"What is the matter, then?" said she. "Are you 
'decapitated'?" 

He replied with gloom that he was, and that the 
occurrence was no joke. 

"Oh," said his wife, gayly, "now you can write 
your Romance !" For he had told her several times 
that he had a romance "growling" in him. 

"Write my Romance !" he exclaimed. "But what 
are we to do for bread and rice, next week?" 

"I will take care of that," she answered. "And 
I will tell Ann to put a fire in your study, now." 8 

Hawthorne's introductory account of the origin 
of the romance in papers and relics discovered in 
the Custom-House is a part of the fiction. The 
original germ of it had probably begun to strike 
root in his imagination years before when he had 
come upon an historical record of a punishment like 
Hester's. In "Endicott and the Red Cross" (in 
cluded in the second installment of Twice Told 
Tales), he had introduced for a moment among a 
group of culprits suffering various ingenious penal 
ties, "a young woman, with no mean share of 
beauty, whose doom it was to wear the letter A 
on the breast of her gown, in the eyes of all the 
world and her own children. And even her own 
children knew what that initial signified. Sporting 



""A Biographical Sketch of Nathaniel Hawthorne," in Tales, 
Sketches, and Other Papers by N. H, Houghton Mifflin, n. d., 
p-496. 



142 AMERICANS 

with her infamy, the lost and desperate creature 
had embroidered the fatal token in scarlet cloth, 
with golden thread and the nicest art of needle- 
work; so that the capital A might have been thought 
to mean Admirable, or anything rather than Adul 
teress." There, for him, was the typical nucleus of 
an imaginative tale. 

We have not much information about the course 
of its development into The Scarlet Letter beyond 
what James T. Fields, the publisher, has related in 
his Yesterdays With Authors. In the winter of 
1849 Fields went to Salem to call on Hawthorne 
and to urge him to publish something. His author, 
whom he seems to have found in low spirits, replied 
that he had nothing to publish, and sent him away 
empty-handed. But before he had reached the 
street, Hawthorne overtook him and thrust into his 
hands a manuscript which he read on the way back 
to Boston. It was a sketch or first draft of The 
Scarlet Letter. "Before I slept that night," says 
Fields, "I wrote him a note all aglow with admira 
tion of the marvellous story he had put into my 
hands, and told him I would come again to Salem 
the next day and arrange for its publication. I went 
on in such an amazing state of excitement, when 
we met again in the little house, that he would not 
believe that I was really in earnest. He seemed to 
think I was beside myself, and laughed sadly at my 
enthusiasm." In the English Note-Books, Haw- 



HAWTHORNE 143 

thorne instances as a case of remarkable phlegm 
the fact that Thackeray read the touching last num 
ber of The Newcomes to James Russell Lowell and 
William Story in a cider-cellar. In this connection 
he remarks: "I cannot but wonder at his coolness 
in respect to his own pathos, and compare it with 
my emotions, when I read the last scene of The 
Scarlet Letter to my wife, just after writing it 
tried to read it rather, for my voice swelled and 
heaved, as if I were tossed up and down on an 
ocean as it subsides after a storm. But I was in a 
very nervous state then, having gone through a 
great diversity of emotion, while writing it, for 
many months. I think I have never overcome my 
own adamant in any other instance." 9 

The success of the book on its publication in 1856 
was immediate and, considering the restrictions put 
upon novel reading in the days of our fathers and 
grandfathers, extensive. In a striking passage of a 
most charming piece of criticism, Henry James 
records the reverberation of its fame registered in 
his own then youthful breast, an instrument more 
than ordinarily sensitive to such impressions, yet 
reacting in a sufficiently representative fashion to 
serve as a general indicator: 

. . , The writer of these lines, who was a child 
at the time, remembers dimly the sensation the book 
produced, and the little shudder with which people 

'English Note-Books, September 14, 1855, quoted by James. 



144 AMERICANS 

alluded to it, as if a peculiar horror were mixed 
with its attractions. He was too young to read it 
himself; but its title, upon which he fixed his eyes 
as the book lay upon the table, had a mysterious 
charm. He had a vague belief, indeed, that the 
"letter" in question was one of the documents that 
come by the post, and it was a source of perpetual 
wonderment to him that it should be of such an un 
accustomed hue. Of course it was difficult to explain 
to a child the significance of poor Hester Prynne's 
blood-coloured A. But the mystery was at last 
partly dispelled by his being taken to see a collec 
tion of pictures (the annual exhibition of the Na 
tional Academy), where he encountered a represen 
tation of a pale, handsome woman, in a quaint black 
dress and a white coif, holding between her knees 
an elfish-looking little girl, fantastically dressed, 
and crowned with flowers. Embroidered on the 
woman's breast was a great crimson A, over which 
the child's fingers, as she glanced strangely out of 
the picture, were maliciously playing. I was told 
that this was Hester Prynne and little Pearl, and 
that when I grew older I might read their interest 
ing history. But the picture remained vividly im 
printed on my mind; I had been vaguely frightened 
and made uneasy by it; and when, years afterwards, 
I first read the novel, I seemed to myself to have 
read it before, and to be familiar with its two 
strange heroines. I mention this incident simply 
as an indication of the degree to which the success 
of The Scarlet Letter had made the book what is 
called an actuality. . . . The book was the finest 
piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the 
country. There was a consciousness of this in the 
welcome that was given it a satisfaction in the 



HAWTHORNE 145 

idea of America having produced a novel that be 
longed to literature, and to the forefront of it. 
Something might at last be sent to Europe as exqui 
site in quality as anything that had been received, 
and the best of it was that the thing was absolutely 
American; it belonged to the soil, to the air; it came 
out of the very heart of New England. 10 

No commentator can fail to remark that the 
story of Arthur Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne 
begins where a seductive love-story hastens to end, 
with the bitterness of stolen waters and the unpala- 
tableness of bread eaten in secret. Without one 
glance backward over the secret path that led to 
the jail door, we are invited to fix our attention 
upon the sombre drama of punishment, atonement, 
remorse. "To Hawthorne's imagination," says 
Henry James, "the fact that these two persons had 
loved each other too well was of an interest com 
paratively vulgar; what appealed to him was the 
idea of their moral situation in the long years that 
follow." This is probably to represent the case as 
more exclusively a matter of artistic interest than 
it was to Hawthorne, though not more so than it 
might have been to James. When, in the Inferno, 
Dante confronts a pair of lovers at a similar point 
in their progress, the first question he raises is how 
they fell into that predicament. Hawthorne would 
hardly have regarded either the answer or the curi- 

10 Hawthorne (in The English Men of Letters series), 1879, 
pp. 107-8. 



146 AMERICANS 

osity which evoked it as vulgar. But by refraining 
in The Scarlet Letter from lifting the veil that hides 
the antecedent history of this passionate experience 
he evades what would have been for him, or for 
any novelist, the extremely difficult problem of 
representing Arthur Dimmesdale in love. By this 
abridgment he obtains, furthermore, an intense con 
centration of interest upon that portion of the his 
tory which a writer wishing to "evolve some deep 
lesson" would desire to emphasize. Finally, it is 
obvious that he has striven sedulously to avoid all 
occasion for exhibiting an aberrant passion in its 
possible aspects of alluring and romantic glamour, 
so that one desperate embrace of the lovers and 
Hester's entreaty for forgiveness under the deep 
shadow of foreboding (in the seventeenth chapter) 
remain almost the only vivid evidence and certifi 
cation of their continuing tenderness and attraction 
for each other. 

Arthur Dimmesdale is ordinarily considered the 
figure of primary importance, and, so far as the 
external evolution of the story is concerned, un 
questionably he is. His, apparently, is the main 
tragic problem, and his is the solution of it. Un 
doubtedly, also, we are admitted from first to last 
very much more fully into his consciousness than 
into Hester's. While she remains for the most part 
in isolation with her enigmatic child, he is defined 
by his relations to the elder clergyman and the offi 
cials of the colony in that superbly ironical scene 



HAWTHORNE 147 

in which Governor Bellingham says : "Good Master 
Dimmesdale, the responsibility of this woman's soul 
lies greatly with you. It behooves you, therefore, 
to exhort her to repentance, and to confession, as 
a proof and consequence thereof." He is defined 
by his peculiarly excruciating relations with Roger 
Chillingworth, a creature of somewhat uncertain 
significance even to his creator, who sometimes in 
vites us to think of him as the devil incarnate, some 
times as an avenging fury, sometimes as the Puritan 
conscience, but never as merely a wronged husband. 
He is defined by his relations to a series of his 
parishioners in the great temptation scene of the 
twentieth chapter, where the baser elements of his 
nature are exhibited in riot and all but victorious. 
He is defined by the passionate exaltation of his 
Election Sermon and by his last words on the scaf 
fold. His is the character that is most adequately 
realized and presented and that affects us as most 
unquestionably human. And yet when all is said 
and done, he does not become an individual; he 
remains a type. The forms of his temptation, sin, 
suffering, struggle, and aspiration are all strictly de 
termined for him by the pressure of Puritan society 
and his clerical profession. Our special interest in 
him is due not to any noteworthy differentiation of 
his character but to the tremendous irony of his 
situation. 

In Hester, on the other hand, it is manifest that 
Hawthorne intended to present an individual. She 



148 AMERICANS 

is differentiated by her rich dark beauty, her volup 
tuous Oriental taste for the gorgeously beautiful, 
and by her aspect, when she is flushed with momen 
tary joy, of a heroine of romance. But her most 
interesting distinction is her moral independence 
and originality. It is to be noted that though her 
punishment causes her shame and suffering, it does 
not appear to bring her to any clear state of con 
trition or repentance. She feels that society by 
making her an outcast has severed her obligation 
to it. For it, she exists only as a terrible example. 
For herself, she is a free spirit liberated in a moral 
wilderness with her own way to make and take. 
In these circumstances her thinking has little refer 
ence to the doctrines expounded in the meeting 
house. She thinks as her heart prompts; and her 
heart tells her that Arthur Dimmesdale is still her 
supreme good, and devotion to him her highest 
duty. The world's frown she had endured and the 
frown of heaven; "but the frown of this pale, weak, 
sinful, and sorrow-stricken man was what Hester 
could not bear and live I" To save him she had 
borne in silence the burden of her knowledge of 
Roger Chillingworth's presence. To redeem him 
from misery she is ready to flee with him to other 
lands. Though in the years of her exile she had 
quietly conformed to the external regulations of 
society, "the world's law," says her historian, "was 
no law for her mind." Her readiness to leave the 
colony with the minister, Hawthorne desires us to 



HAWTHORNE 149 

understand, was no mere impulse of unreflecting 
emotion. It was due to her vision of the possibility 
of reconstructing their shattered lives, and this 
vision in turn was the consequence of her internal 
emancipation from the power of the Puritan system 
of ideas: "She assumed a freedom of speculation, 
then common enough on the other side of the At 
lantic, but which our forefathers, had they known 
it, would have held to be a deadlier crime than that 
stigmatized by the scarlet letter. In her lonesome 
cottage, by the seashore, thoughts visited her, such 
as dared to enter no other dwelling in New Eng 
land; shadowy guests, that would have been as 
perilous as demons to their entertainer, could they 
have been seen so much as knocking at her door." 
This free speculative impulse in Hester, her reach 
ing out for "spiritual laws" not generally recognized 
by the society of her time, makes her a Transcen- 
dentalist before the appointed hour. 

In the forest scene Hawthorne represents Nature 
as in mysterious and joyous sympathy with the bliss 
of the lovers in their vision of a new life together. 
That he does not accept Nature as moral oracle, 
however, he indicates by an emphatic parenthesis 
"that wild, heathen Nature of the forest, never sub 
jugated by human law, nor illumined by higher 
truth." On the other hand, his giving the solution 
of the problem to Arthur Dimmesdale does not 
prove by any means that his sympathies were wholly 
on the side of the Puritans. His comment upon the 



ISO AMERICANS 

two possibilities of escape from the predicament in 
which he has placed his hero and heroine is more 
subtle than is ordinarily noticed. What he has 
made clear is, that for the minister, who at the end 
is as thoroughly dominated by Puritan forms of 
thought as at the beginning, confession was fated 
and inevitable. For him Hester's solution would 
have involved the repetition of a deadly sin. His 
temporary decision to flee with her is therefore con 
sistently represented as filling his mind with per 
verse suggestions of evil. Arthur Dimmesdale, we 
may be sure, was happier dying on the scaffold than 
he would have been sailing to Europe. 

It is to be observed, however, that the devilish 
persecution which afflicts him does not touch Hes 
ter. Nor is she exhibited as participating in the 
ecstasy of his confession. To his question, "Is not 
this better than what we dreamed of in the for 
est?" she only murmurs, "I know not! I know 
not!" And her last words express her quite heretical 
hope of union with the minister in another world. 
She believes that in her seven years of suffering 
she has made amends to heaven for her wrong 
doing. With the lapse of time even her rigorous 
fellow-townsmen relent, take her again into their 
affections, and even turn to her for counsel "in the 
continually recurring trials of wounded, wasted, 
wronged, misplaced, or erring and sinful passion." 
Hawthorne, while remarking that she often thinks 
amiss, obviously admires the natural desire of her 



HAWTHORNE 151 

rich warm nature to regain a place of usefulness 
and happiness in society. In the conclusion, 
furthermore, he intimates pointedly enough that the 
Puritans of the seventeenth century had not re 
ceived the final word on the regulation of human 
relationships; that, when the world is ripe for 
it, there will be a "higher law" declared, a new 
revelation, "showing how sacred love should make 
us happy, by the truest test of a life successful to 
such an end!" 

In his preface to The House of the Seven Gables 
Hawthorne deprecates attempts to "impale the 
story with its moral, as with an iron rod." "A high 
truth," he declares, "fairly, finely, and skilfully 
wrought out, brightening at every step, and crown 
ing the final development of a work of fiction, may 
add an artistic glory, but is never truer, and seldom 
more evident, at the last page than at the first." 
In the face of this caution it would be imprudent 
to speak directly of the moral intentions wrought 
into the fabric of The Scarlet Letter. It may be 
permissible, however, to call attention to the singu 
lar union of judgment with compassion which char 
acterizes Hawthorne's treatment of his principal 
personages, and which he also solicits for them 
from the reader. He solicits compassion in this 
romance, as in the little tale of "The Minister with 
the Black Veil," by perpetually suggesting to the 
reader that search in his own heart would discover 
at lea.st the seeds and latent possibilities of kindred 



152 AMERICANS 

tragic guilt. He solicits judgment on the ground 
which the most gentle-spirited Transcendentalist 
may take, and so save himself from dissolution in 
sympathy, namely, that we should abide firmly by 
the law we have till the higher law is ready. The 
method of Hawthorne's moral appeal is the method 
of tragic poetry: the image of anguish that never 
fades, the cadenced cry that, like the despairing wail 
of Lady Macbeth, lingers in the memory "Is there 
not shade enough in all this boundless forest to hide 
thy heart from the gaze of Roger Chillingworth ?" 



VI 
WALT WHITMAN 

Whitman interests and disquiets us beyond all 
other American poets by that personality of his, 
so original, so indolent yet intense, so fearlessly 
flaunted yet so enigmatically reserved, so palpably 
carnal yet so illuminated with mystical ardor that at 
the first bewildering contact one questions whether 
his urgent touch is of lewdness or divinity. There 
is something daimonic in the effluence of the man, 
which visitors remark and remember months and 
years afterwards as an impulse unaccountably affect 
ing the temper of their lives. It is a sign by which 
one recognizes native power of one sort or another 
quite above talent. Hawthorne and other observers 
were conscious of such an effluence from Whitman's 
master, Emerson "a pure, intellectual gleam dif 
fused about his presence like the garment of a shin 
ing one." But the aura of the disciple, who roved 
so far from the decorous circle of the Concord 
Platonist, was, I fancy, spiked with yellow flame, 
like the gold-colored nimbus that he sought to paint 
above the heads of his fellow countrymen "I paint 

153 



154 AMERICANS 

many heads : but I paint no head without its nimbus 
of gold-colored light." "Something a little more 
than human," commented Thoreau, that cool- 
blooded New Englander, after an hour's conver 
sation with the bard. Edward Carpenter, an Eng 
lish pilgrim who visited him in 1877, says that in 
the first ten minutes he became conscious "of an im 
pression which subsequently grew even more marked 
the impression, namely, of immense vista or back 
ground in his personality." As to the final quality 
of Whitman's personal effluence the testimony of 
John Burroughs, recorded in 1878, should be de 
cisive: "After the test of time nothing goes home 
like the test of actual intimacy, and to tell me that 
Whitman is not a large, fine, fresh magnetic per 
sonality, making you love him, and want always to 
be with him, were to tell me that my whole past 
life is a deception, and all the perception of my 
impressions a fraud." His appeal to the imagina 
tion was not diminished by his offering to the eye. 
The mere physical image of him standing against 
the sky, so nonchalant and imperturbable in his 
workman's shirt and trousers, as in his first edition 
of 1855, is, or was, of a novel and compelling 
effrontery in the smooth gallery of our national 
statuary. Like the image of Franklin at Paris in 
his coonskin cap, the image of Lincoln as the rail- 
splitter, or of Mark Twain as the Mississippi pilot, 
or of Roosevelt as Rough Rider, so the image of 



WALT WHITMAN 155 

Walt Whitman as the carpenter or printer turned 
bard in Manhattan pleases one's taste for the 
autocthonous, the home-grown. More than that, it 
touches the heart by symbolizing the national sense 
that, after all our civilizing efforts, we live still in 
an unfinished world. He acquired blandness with 
the years; yet even in his mild old age he looked 
out from under his wide-brimmed hat and from the 
cloudy covert of beard and hair with no academic 
mien rather with the untamed and heroic aspect of 

Tiresias and Phineus, prophets old. 

On the centenaries of most of the American poets 
who flourished at the time when the Leaves of 
Grass was first put forth, we enquire rather coldly 
and incuriously what is left of them. They have 
sadly dwindled most of them they have lost 
their warmth for us, they have become irrelevant 
to our occasions. Whitman still with astonishing 
completeness lives. He lives because hr marvel- 
ously well identified that daimonic personality with 
his book, so that whoever touches it, as he himself 
declared, touches a man, and a man of singularly 
intense perceptiveness. One can hardly exaggerate 
the potency of Whitman's imaginative process a 
process easier to illustrate than to define. Let us 
take, for example, these lines on the fugitive slave 
and consider the almost intolerable immediacy 
of the presentment: 



156 AMERICANS 

The hounded slave that flags in the race, leans by 

the fence, blowing, cover'd with sweat, 
The twinges that sting like needles his legs and neck, 

the murderous buckshot and the bullets 
All these I feel or am. 
I am the hounded slave, I wince at the bite of the 

dogs; 
Hell and despair are upon me, crack and again 

crack the marksman; 
I clutch the rails of the fence, my gore dribs, thinn'd 

with the ooze of my skin; 
I fall on the weeds and stones. 
The riders spur their unwilling horses, haul close, 
Taunt my dizzy ears and beat me violently over the 

head with whip stocks. 

Agonies are one of my changes of garments. 
I do not ask the wounded person how he feels; I 

myself become the wounded person; 
My hurts turn livid upon me as I lean on a cane 

and observe. 

This is the method of Whitman: imaginative 
contemplation of the object, which identifies him 
with the object. It does not suggest comparison 
with the method of Longfellow or of Tennyson. It 
reminds one rather of the imaginative contempla 
tion practised by mediaeval saints, which brought 
out in hands and brow the marks of the Crucifixion. 
The vitality and validity of Whitman's report is not 
that of an experience observed but rather that of 
an experience repeated. 

But Whitman lives for another reason which is 
worth dwelling upon for the sake of young poets 



WALT WHITMAN 157 

eager for immortality. He lives because of the 
richness of his vital reference, the fulness of the 
relations which he established between his book and 
the living world. There is a sect of poets to-day, 
with attendant critics, who expect to outlast their 
age by shunning contact with its hopes and fears, 
by avoiding commitments and allegiances, and by 
confining themselves to decorating the interior of 
an ivory tower in the style of Kubla Khan. Whit 
man made his bid for perpetuity on another basis. 
He identified himself and his chants with innumer 
able things that are precious and deathless with 
his wide-extended land and the unending miracles 
of the seasons, with the independence and union and 
destiny of "These States," with common people and 
heroes, their proud memories, their limitless aspi 
ration, and with the sunlight and starlight of the 
over-arching heaven. Committing himself to demo 
cratic America, he surrendered with "immitigable 
adoration" to a spirit that preserved and magnified 
him with its own unfolding greatness. And so as 
the seasons return, he returns with the spring and 
the musical winds and tides that play about his be 
loved Mannahatta, with the subtle odor of lilacs in 
the dooryard, with valor and suffering and victory, 
with the thoughts and words that perennially conse 
crate the old battlefield at Gettysburg, with the 
young men returning from the latest "great war," 
with civil labor resumed and civil comradeship, with 
furled flags and May-time and hopes recurrent. He 



158 AMERICANS 

returns; and if we wish to salute him, he will give 
us the tune: 

Again old heart so gay, again to you, your sense, 

the full flush spring returning; 
Again the freshness and the odors, again Virginia's 

summer sky, pellucid blue and silver; 
Again the forenoon purple of the hills; 
Again the deathless grass, so noiseless, soft and 

green, 
Again the blood-red roses blooming. 

But why is this interesting and vital personality 
important to us? Open the Leaves of Grass, and 
you will find this piquantly intimate answer: "I con 
sidered long and seriously of you before you were 
born." Other poets have given little thought to us, 
and we, in compensation, give little thought to 
them; for we modern men and women of realistic 
temper go not to literature to escape from life, 
but to intensify our sense of it and to find a spirit 
that will animate us in the thick of it. Whitman, 
proclaimer of egotism, foresaw our intentness upon 
our own enterprises, and prepared for the day when 
we should demand of him: "What have you said, 
Poet, that concerns us?" Though he is saturated 
with historical and contemporary references, noth 
ing in him is merely contemporary, merely histori 
cal. He gathers up ages, literatures, philosophies, 
and consumes them as the food of passion and 
prophecy. He strides with the energy and momen 
tum of the national past into the national future, 



WALT WHITMAN 159 

towering above a poetical movement which he has 
fathered, scattering social and political and religious 
gospels, with troops of disciples and unbelievers in 
this and other lands, crying still proudly as of old: 
"All that I have said concerns you." He is impor 
tant, because he recognized that, though there are 
many ways by which a man can attract attention 
and get a temporary hearing, there is only one way 
by which he can permanently interest and attach 
the affections of the American people and so hold 
a place among the great Americans : that is by help 
ing them unfold the meanings, fulfil the promises, 
and justify the faith of democratic society. 

By making himself important to the American 
people as the poetic interpreter of their political and 
social ideals, Whitman, as things are turning out, 
finds himself now mid-stream in the democratic 
movement which encompasses the earth. At the 
present time it is manifest that, in spite of obstacles 
and cross-currents, the central current of the world 
is making towards democracy. Whatever else it 
involves, democracy involves at least one grand 
salutary elementary admission, namely, that the 
world exists for the benefit and for the improve 
ment of all the decent individuals in it. Till re 
cently this admission in many quarters had never 
been made, had been savagely opposed. It is cov 
ertly, secretly, indirectly opposed in many quarters 
of our own country even to-day. Now the indica 
tions are that those who opposite it are going to 



160 AMERICANS 

be outnumbered and overwhelmed. The movement 
is on, and it will not be stopped. Wise men, ambi 
tious men, far-sighted men will not attempt to block 
it. They will adapt themselves to it, they will co 
operate with it, they will direct and further it as 
the only way in which they may hope to be of any 
cheerful significance in the era opening before them. 
The "ruling class," the statesmen, in all nations 
will find their mission and their honor progressively 
dependent upon their capacity for bringing the en 
tire body of humanity into one harmonious and 
satisfactory life. 

Now the supreme power of Whitman consists in 
this: that his spirit works inwardly, like religion, 
upon other spirits, quickening and preparing them 
for this general human fellowship, this world soci 
ety, which to him, as to many of his great prede 
cessors, appeared to be the legitimate far-off conse 
quence of the principles declared by the American 
fathers. "Cosmopolitanism" has of late suffered 
many indignities as a word and as a conception; 
and those who speak of an international society are 
readily charged with treasonable and anarchical in 
novation. In the spiritual sense of the word no 
aspiration is, as a matter of fact, more thoroughly 
American and traditional than cosmopolitanism. 
"God grant," exclaimed Franklin, "that not only 
the love of liberty but a thorough knowledge of the 
rights of man may pervade all the nations of the 
earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot any- 



WALT WHITMAN 161 

where on its surface and say, 'This is my country.' ' 
By statesmen like Washington, Jefferson, John 
Quincy Adams, or Lincoln this utterance would have 
been accepted as suggesting the ultimate fruition of 
the highest statecraft. The diffusion of a spirit 
among men which will support and make possible 
such statecraft appeared to writers like Emerson 
and Whitman as perhaps the central function of the 
serious man of letters. 

"I hate literature," said Whitman, conversing in 
Camden with colloquial over-emphasis. What he 
meant was that he rejected the famous "play- 
theory" of art and looked with disdain upon belles- 
lettres in their merely recreative and decorative 
aspects. "Literature is big," he explained on an 
other occasion, "only in one way when used as an 
aid in the growth of the humanities a furthering 
of the cause of the masses a means whereby men 
may be revealed to each other as brothers." Recog 
nizing that "the real work of democracy is done 
underneath its politics," Whitman conceived of his 
mission from first to last as moral and spiritual; 
and nothing could be sillier than the current criti 
cism which derides a sense of mission in the poet 
and at the same time proudly salutes Whitman as 
the chief American poet. It is as if one should 
say, "I am very fond of walnuts, but I don't like 
the meats." Not a part but the whole of his life- 
work is permeated with religious and moral inten 
tion. What gives to the Leaves of Grass its cumu- 



162 AMERICANS 

lative effect is its many-sided development of a single 
theme, of which I shall give one more of his con 
versational descriptions: "I am for getting all the 
walls down all of them. . . . While I seem to 
love America, and wish to see America prosperous, 
I do not seem able to bring myself to love America, 
to desire American prosperity, at the expense of 
some other nation." "But must we not take care 
of home first of all?" asked Dudley. "Perhaps," 
replied Whitman, "but what is home to the hu 
manitarian what is home?" 

It is easy and natural to disparage this diffusive 
humanitarian sentiment as it is to ignore that diffi 
cult central precept of Christianity which prescribes 
one's feeling towards one's neighbor. Every one 
knows, for example, Roosevelt's scornful compari 
son of the man who loves his own country no better 
than another to the man who loves his own wife no 
better than another. Roosevelt, who had a great 
talent for bringing forward and glorifying the sim 
ple elementary passions, has had his share of ap 
plause. When the applause dies away and reflection 
begins, it occurs to some of us that the simple 
elementary passions pretty well look after them 
selves. No very rare talent is required to commend 
to the average man the simple elementary passions. 
He takes to them by a primitive urge of his being 
as the bull moose takes to fighting and mating. Na 
ture has given them a vigor and hardiness which 



WALT WHITMAN 163 

provides against their extinction. Meanwhile our 
societies, national and international, do not run as 
smoothly and efficiently as men who hate waste and 
confusion desire. They seem to clamor from their 
discordant and jarring gear for some motive and 
regulative power other than the simple elementary 
passions. What nature has overlooked and neg 
lected or inadequately attended to is the develop 
ment of those feelings which fit men to live har 
moniously in complex civil societies. So that the 
special task for those who would ameliorate our 
modern world is to bring forward and glorify an 
order of emotions quite unknown to the Cave Man 
a mutual understanding and imaginative sympa 
thy which begin to develop and operate only when 
the elementary urges of our nature have been 
checked and subdued by a reflective culture. Over 
most of the once-called great statesmen of Whit 
man's period and of our own generation the Bis- 
marcks, the Disraelis, the Roosevelts there falls 
the shadow of great tasks from which they shrank 
and the darker and still present shadow of a great 
calamity which their fostering of the elementary 
passions helped to bring upon us. In the present 
posture of the world I think we should not scorn 
so resolute a patriot as Whitman, who had lived 
through two or three wars, for confessing the 
growth in himself and for promoting the growth 
in others of a sense like this: 



164 AMERICANS 

This moment yearning and thoughtful sitting alone, 
It seems to me there are other men in other lands 

yearning and thoughtful; 
It seems to me I can look over and behold them in 

Germany, Italy, France, Spain, 
Or far, far away in China, or in Russia or Japan, 

talking other dialects. 
And it seems to me if I could know these men I 

should become attached to them as I do to men 

in my own lands. 

I know we should be brethren and lovers ; 

1 know I should be happy with them. 

There is at least an appearance of inconsistency 
between this limitless humanitarian sympathy of 
Whitman's and his enthusiastic nationalism. There 
is at least an appearance of inconsistency between 
his enthusiastic nationalism and his resolute indi 
vidualism. But let us not forget the appearance 
of fundamental conflict between the multitude of 
the heavenly host crying peace on earth and the 
words of him they heralded saying, "I came not 
to bring peace but a sword." The exploration of 
the ground between these opposites, the reconcilia 
tion of jarring antinomies, is a task from which 
statesmen shrink. It is precisely the master task 
of the poetic and religious imagination. Whitman, 
as the opening lines of his book declare, recognized 
it as the very heart of his theme : 

One's-Self I sing a simple, separate Person; 

Yet utter the word Democratic, the word En-masse. 

There is the mystery which enchanted him and 



WALT WHITMAN 165 

which perplexes us still the mystery of the co 
existence of personal freedom with social authority. 
He believed in both, just as for centuries men have 
believed in the coexistence of free-will with fore 
knowledge absolute. No one has a right to call 
his reconciliation of the individual with society in 
adequate who has not taken the trouble to hear the 
whole of his song and its commentaries in "Demo 
cratic Vistas" and "Specimen Days" ; for part sup 
ports part, and the whole is greater than the sum 
of them. No other poet exhibits himself so inade 
quately in extracts. One gets nearly all of Gray in 
the "Elegy" ; but one can no more get all of Whit 
man in "O Captain! My Captain" than one can get 
all of a modern symphony in the sound of the flutes 
or oboes. Whitman is not primarily a melodist. 
His strength is in the rich interweaving of intricate 
and difficult harmonies. 

In the life-long evolution of his work, he was 
seeking a concord of soul and body, individual and 
society, state and nation, nation and the family of 
nations, some grand chord to unite the dominant 
notes of all. In his quest for this harmony he 
clothes himself in his country as in a garment; he 
becomes America feeling out her relations with the 
world. I seem to distinguish in his poems three 
great successive movements or impulses correspond 
ing roughly to the three periods of the national life 
in which he had his being. The first is a movement 
of individualistic expansion corresponding to the 



166 AMERICANS 

period before the Civil War. The second is a move 
ment of concentration corresponding to the period 
of the war. The third is a resumed movement of 
"individualistic" expansion following the war, and 
spiritualized by it." 

It can hardly be too much emphasized that Whit 
man and America went through their adolescence 
together and that the arrogance of his advent in 
poetry matches the defiant attitude of the young 
republic. Born at West Hills, Long Island, May 
31, 1819, Walt Whitman had a lively consciousness 
of his inheritance from the French and American 
revolutions. In his boyhood he had actually been 
touched by Lafayette. He knew an old friend of 
Tom Paine's. His own father, though an unedu 
cated man, had caught the free-thinking habit of 
the eighteenth century. As he grew towards man 
hood, he felt stirring around him that intoxicating 
welter of radical enthusiasms and rosy idealisms 
which in the forties and fifties was loosely described 
as Transcendentalism, and which remains to this 
day the most variously fascinating and fragrant 
blossoming of mind that America has exhibited. It 
was a delighted movement of emancipation from 
the old world and her unholy alliances. It was still 
more a resolute affirmation of faith in the new world 
and her unexplored possibilities faith in the re 
sources of nature and the capacity of man to appro 
priate them. Inspiriting voices were in the air, and 
every voice cried in one fashion or another: "Trust 



WALT WHITMAN 167 

thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string. 
Acccept the place the divine Providence has found 
for you; the society of your contemporaries, the 
connexion of events. Great men have always done 
so and confided themselves childlike to the genius 
of their age, betraying their perception that the 
Eternal was stirring at their heart, working through 
their hands, predominating in all their being." 

In his roving early days as teacher, printer, edi 
tor; reading his Dante and Shakespeare in a wood 
by the sea; visiting New Orleans and wandering 
home again by the Mississippi and the Great Lakes, 
Whitman heard these voices of his age pealing in 
his ear with an ever more imperative summons, 
"Trust thyself." And Whitman resolved to trust 
himself, soul and body, and to trust his time and 
place, and to commit himself for better or for worse 
to the society of his contemporaries and the spiritual 
current flowing beneath American events. There 
has been much discussion of Whitman's indebted 
ness at this point to the inspiration of Emerson. 
It seems clear on the one hand that Whitman sent 
a copy of his edition of 1855 to Emerson; that in 
his edition of 1856 he printed Emerson's letter of 
acknowledgment and spoke of him as "friend and 
master"; and that in the conversations of his later 
years with Traubel he repeatedly talked of Emer 
son with admiration and reverence. It is clear, on 
the other hand, that Emerson looked upon Whit 
man as a representative of the new America, for 



168 AMERICANS 

whom he had in some sense prepared the way, and 
that on July 21, 1855, he wrote to the then almost 
unknown poet the following memorable letter: 

DEAR SIR: I am not blind to the worth of the 
wonderful gift of Leaves of Grass. I find it the 
most extraordinary piece of wit and wisdom that 
America has yet contributed. I am very happy in 
reading it, as great power makes us happy. It meets 
the demand I am always making of what seems the 
sterile and stingy Nature, as if too much handiwork 
or too much lymph in the temperament were making 
our Western wits fat and mean. I give you joy of 
your free and brave thought. I have great joy in 
it. I find incomparable things, said incomparably 
well, as they must be. I find the courage of treat 
ment which so delights us, and which large percep 
tion only can inspire. 

I, greet you at the beginning of a great career, 
which yet must have had a long foreground, for 
such a start. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this 
sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the 
book is a sober certainty. It has the best merits, 
namely, of fortifying and encouraging. 

I did not know, until I last night saw the book 
advertised in a newspaper, that I could trust the 
name as real and available for a post-office. 

I wish to see my benefactor, and have felt much 
like striking my tasks, and visiting New York to 
pay you my respects. 

R. W. EMERSON. 

Now Whitman's "free and brave thought," his 
determination to trust himself, body and soul, im 
pelled him in the first gush of his self-expression to 



WALT WHITMAN 169 

glorify his earthy and instinctive impulses with a 
flamboyance which Emerson and many other critics 
were to condemn as distasteful, shocking, or even 
dangerous. The powerful virtue in the chants be 
fore the war, the virtue for the sake of which Emer 
son overlooked whatever in them he distasted, was 
their "fortifying and encouraging" individualism. 
It is an individualism of adolescent America, un 
checked by political experience, modified and colored 
by emotional attachments to the American scene 
and the American actors. It is such a passion as 
made such an indigenous individual as Thoreau love 
Walden Pond and refuse to pay his taxes. It is an 
individualism further tempered, however, from the 
first by a profound sense of the general human 
brotherhood and a hatred of unearned special privi 
lege. Heir of the Revolutionary Era, Whitman is 
an equalitarian of a sort. "By God," he exclaims, 
"I will accept nothing which all cannot have their 
counterpart of on the same terms." But for bring 
ing in the reign of Equality he confides in men rather 
than in political mechanisms. "Produce," he as 
serts, "Produce great persons, the rest follows." 
He is the Declaration of Independence incarnate. 
He desires followers but only such as are moved 
by inner impulse; he will not have clubs studying 
him nor "schools" trooping after him. Markedly 
like Emerson and Thoreau in this respect, he is 
wary of organizations which prescribe the conduct 
of the individual and relieve him of his personal 



170 AMERICANS 

danger and responsibility. He will stand or fall in 
his own strength. He is wary of organized major 
ities. Almost in the spirit of Washington he warns 
against the savageness and wolfishness of parties, 
so combative, so intolerant of the idea of equal 
brotherhood and the interests of all. "It behooves 
you," he declared, "to convey yourself implicitly to 
no party, nor submit blindly to their dictators, but 
steadily hold yourself judge and master over all 
of them." "I am a radical of radicals," he repeats 
from youth to grey old age. Beside this utterance 
one should place his golden words to his biographer 
Traubel: "Be radical; be radical; be not too 
damned radical." Despite such cautionary modifica 
tions, however, one may say that Whitman's pri 
mary impulse is one of revolt against whatever de 
prives the simple separate person of his right to 
freedom and the pursuit of happiness. 

But the second movement of Whitman's mind 
proves him a far more complex phenomenon than 
most of the critics have acknowledged. Mr. George 
Santayana represents him as a kind of placid animal 
wallowing unreflectively in the stream of his own 
sensations. This view of him may indeed be sup 
ported by reference to certain of his passages which 
express with unwise exuberance his delight in the 
reports of his senses. The unwisdom of his exuber 
ance with reference to the sexual life, for example, 
is pretty nearly demonstrated by the number of 
critics whose critical faculty has been quite upset 



WALT WHITMAN 171 

by it; so that they can find nothing significant in this 
prophet of the new world but his shamelessness. 
"Hold off from sensuality," enjoined Cicero (who, 
by the way, was not a Victorian) "for, if you have 
given yourself up to it, you will find yourself unable 
to think of anything else." This precept rests upon 
physiological and psychological facts which Whit 
man's experiments in heliotherapy have not altered. 
To put a serpent in a show-window does not blunt 
its fangs. But to represent Whitman as exclusively 
or finally preoccupied with the life of the senses is 
not to represent him whole. It is to ignore a fact 
which flames from the completed Leaves of Grass, 
namely, that he is one of the "twice-born" that 
he had a new birth in the spirit of the Civil War 
and a rebaptism in its blood. His book as it now 
stands is built around that event, and the martyred 
President is the palpitating heart of it. That Whit 
man emerged from the warm shallows of his in 
dividual sensibility, that he immersed himself in the 
spiritual undercurrents of the national life, this 
significant alteration of his position is established 
by his conduct and temper in the war. 

Through the long agony of the struggle, Whit 
man went about the military hospitals, nursing the 
sick and wounded from every state without excep 
tion; with malice toward none, with charity for all, 
tenderly compassionate toward Northerner and 
Southerner alike. In his "Notes of a Hospital 
Nurse" he records his affectionate ministrations to 



172 AMERICANS 

two brothers mortally wounded in the same battle 
but on opposite sides; and he remarks almost as if 
he himself were a neutral above the conflict. "Each 
died for his cause." The accent of his compassion 
recalls the perplexed sadness of that touching pass 
age in the Second Inaugural where Lincoln reflects 
that "Both read the same Bible, and pray to the 
same God; and each invokes his aid against the 
other." Almost in the manner of an outraged 
pacifist, Whitman, after describing an attack on a 
hospital train, comments as follows: "Multiply 
the above by scores, aye hundreds light it with 
every lurid passion, the wolf's, the lion's lapping 
thirst for blood the passionate boiling volcanoes 
of human revenge for comrades, brothers slain 
with the light of burning farms, and heaps of smut 
ting, smouldering black embers and in the human 
heart everywhere black, worse embers and you 
have an inkling of this war." Yet despite his abhor 
rence of cruelty and despite his compassion for suf 
fering, Whitman's sympathy does not blunt the 
edge of his judgment. He is no more a pacifist or 
a neutral than Lincoln himself. Though his eyes 
are fixed daily on the dreadful cost of his moral 
and political faith, he remains a passionate and un 
relenting Unionist. Like the great captain whom 
he was to salute as "the sweetest, wisest soul of all 
my days and lands," he has sunk his personal sensi 
bilities in the larger and more precious life of the 
nation. Till the war is over he cries with full 



WALT WHITMAN 173 

heart: "Thunder on! stride on, Democracy! Strike 
with vengeful stroke." In his vision of the indis 
pensable One encompassing the Many he salutes 
the sacrificial flag with an out-flaming national loy 
alty incomprehensible to the conscientious objector: 

Angry cloth I saw there leaping I 

I stand again in leaden rain your flapping folds 

saluting, 
I sing you over all, flying beckoning through the 

fight O the hard-contested fight! 
The cannons ope their rosy-flashing muzzles the 

hurtled balls scream, 
The battle-front forms amid the smoke the volleys 

pour incessant from the line, 
Hark, the ringing word Charge! now the tussle and 

the furious maddening yells, 
Now the corpses tumble curl'd upon the ground, 
Cold, cold in death, for precious life of you, 
Angry cloth I saw their leaping. 

In the era of reconstruction after the war Whit 
man reconstructs his individualism in the light of 
his allegiance to the Union. Musing deeply of 
"these warlike days and of peace return'd, and 
the dead that return no more," he hears a phantom 
with stern visage bidding him chant the poem "that 
comes from the soul of America, chant me the carol 
of victory." Brooding once again upon the old 
mystery, why Lincoln wished to preserve the Union, 
what justified those rivers of fraternal blood, he 
bursts into this explanation of the ultimate purpose 



174 AMERICANS 

of a modern democratic state, and offers it, as will 
be noted at the end, to America militant: 

I swear I begin to see the meaning of these things, 

It is not the earth, it is not America who is great, 

It is I who am great or to be great, it is You up 
there, or any one, 

It is to walk rapidly through civilizations, govern 
ments, theories, 

Through poems, pageants, shows, to form indi 
viduals. 

Underneath all, individuals, 

I swear nothing is good to me now that ignores 
individuals, 

The American compact is altogether with individ 
uals, 

The only government is that which makes minute of 
individuals, 

The whole theory of the universe is directed un 
erringly to one single individual namely, to 
You 

(Mother! with subtle sense severe, with the naked 
sword in your hand, 

I saw you at last refuse to treat but directly with 
individuals.) 

There is a definition of purpose which cuts into 
Treitschke's cold-blooded assertion that "the indi 
vidual has no right to regard the State as a means 
for attaining his own ambitions in life." And it cuts 
with equal keenness into the conception of those 
younger international, revolutionary statesmen who, 
ignoring individuals, propose to deal with classes, 
legislate for one class, and institute world-wide 



WALT WHITMAN 175 

class-war. But let us admit, also, that it strikes 
quite as deeply into the pretensions of any class 
whatsoever, which governing in its own interest, 
becomes the oppressor and parasite of the body 
politic. These stalwart American individuals whom 
Whitman demands in immense numbers as the coun 
terpoise to the levelling State cut all classes to pieces. 
"The pride and centripetal isolation of a human 
being in himself," he says in one of his timely preg 
nant passages, is the check, "whereby Nature re 
strains the deadly original relentlessness of all her 
first-class laws." 

There is no reconciliation of this haughty indi 
vidualism with his haughty nationalism possible ex 
cept through faith faith to believe that the Ameri 
can type of democratic government is the form best 
adapted to the production of the largest possible 
number of great and happy individuals. Rise to 
that faith, and you find within reach a principle of 
reconciliation between your proud nationalism, and 
that profound and sacred instinct in you which 
impels you to join hands with men and women who 
live under other flags yet belong to the same great 
civil society. Keep your eyes fixed on the true goal 
of national life and you may keep your national 
loyalty even in a league of nations. You may say 
in all honesty and with the full ardor of patriotic 
exaltation: "O America, because you build for 
mankind, I build for you." 

Whitman is not the altogether intoxicated be- 



176 AMERICANS 

liever in democracy that he is usually made out to 
be. We may as well embrace this faith, such is the 
entirely sober argument of "Democratic Vistas," 
because the experiment is going to be tried, whether 
we like it or not. The deep currents of the times 
set that way: "Whatever may be said in the way 
of abstract argument, for or against the theory of 
a wider democratizing of institutions in any civilized 
country, much trouble might well be saved to all 
European lands by recognizing this palpable fact 
(for a palpable fact it is), that some form of such 
democratizing is about the only resource now left. 
That, or chronic dissatisfaction continued, mutter- 
ings which grow annually louder and louder, till, 
in due course, and pretty swiftly in most cases, the 
inevitable crisis, crash, dynastic ruin. Anything 
worthy to be called statesmanship in the Old World, 
I should say, among the advanced students, adepts, 
or men of any brains, does not debate today whether 
to hold on, attempting to lean back and monarchize, 
or to look forward and democratize but how, and 
in what degree and part, most prudently to democ 
ratize." 

On the occasion of his centenary celebration 
there was much inconclusive discussion as to 
whether, had he lived in these days, he would have 
been a "Bolshevist." 

If Whitman had lived at the right place in these 
years of the Proletarian Millennium, he would have 
been hanged as a reactionary member of the hour- 



WALT WHITMAN 177 

geoise. First, he distrusts schemes of doctrinaires 
instituting a new order in sudden and violent con 
travention of nature, as these lines witness: 

Were you looking to be held together by lawyers? 
Or argument on paper? or by arms? 
Nay, nor the world, nor any living thing, will so 
cohere. 

Secondly, he had a realistic scheme of his own for 
stabilizing democratic society by absorbing the up 
per and lower economic strata into a renovated and 
homogeneous middle: "The true gravitation hold 
of liberalism in the United States will be a more 
universal ownership of property, general home 
steads, general comfort a vast, intertwining reticu 
lation of wealth. As the human frame, or indeed, 
any object in this manifold universe, is best kept to 
gether by the simple miracle of its own cohesion, 
and the necessity, exercise and profit thereof, so a 
great and varied nationality, occupying millions of 
square miles, were firmest held and knit by the prin 
ciple of the safety and endurance of the aggregate 
of its middling property holders. So that, from an 
other point of view, ungracious as it may sound, and 
a paradox after what we have been saying, democ 
racy looks with suspicious, ill-satisfied eye upon the 
very poor, the ignorant, and on those out of busi 
ness. She asks for men and women with occupa 
tions, well-off, owners of houses and acres, and with 
cash in the bank and with some cravings for litera- 



178 AMERICANS 

ture, too; and must have them." A passage by 
no means devoid of political sagacity. 

Thirdly, Whitman is not in the least content as a 
final term of progress with the material civilization 
which he expects and demands as the stage follow 
ing the founding of fundamental institutions and 
laws. "The fruition of democracy, on aught like 
a grand scale," he declares with emphasis, "resides 
altogether in the future." Like most imaginative 
writers who have striven to present a vast and com 
plex vision, he has been grievously misunderstood. 
His great songs are songs of faith, winged with 
anticipative ecstasy, outflying the literal and the 
humdrum, soaring down that far vista at the end of 
which a "sublime and serious Religious Democracy" 
will sternly take command. He has been described 
as a noisy braggart about himself and his country; 
but he is complacent with hope, not fulfillment. 
What he is bragging about is God, that power not 
ourselves working through man and nature and 
mysteriously bringing vast designs to pass in spite 
of all that the almost infinite wickedness and igno 
rance of man can do to thwart him. 

Finally, Whitman would have been hanged by a 
canny council of workmen because of the germs of 
a new aristocracy lurking in his "great persons," 
his powerful free individuals, and pervading, in 
deed, all that he says or sings. He is a reader of 
newspapers and passes for a shallow fellow with 
those who do not also observe that he is a de- 



WALT WHITMAN 179 

vourer of bibles and epics. He is called a blind 
and silly optimist by those who overlook the fact 
that he has made a clean breast of more evil in 
himself and his countrymen than any other writer 
had admitted as existing; and his optimism is said 
to depend upon his championship of vulgarity and 
mediocrity. It is true that he seems to rely a great 
deal upon the "divine average." But, then, his 
standards are not so low. He is not such a facile 
leveler. His specimen of the average man, what 
he means by the average man, is Ulysses Grant, is 
Abraham Lincoln. Whitman adores America be 
cause she produces such men, and he clamors for 
shoals of them poets, orators, scholars of the 
same bulk and build and aplomb. He will not be 
satisfied till he sees a hundred million of such superb 
persons, such aristocrats, walking these States. He 
is a democrat with an exorbitant thirst for distinc 
tion, of heroic mold, elate with a vision of 
grandeurs and glories, of majesties and splendors 
like every good democrat with a spark of imag 
ination. 

I have set forth some of the main points in Whit 
man's system of ideas, but I recall his warning: "Do 
not attempt to explain me; I cannot explain my 
self." And certainly his service to us is neither con 
tained nor containable in an argument. He gives 
us the sustaining emotion which prevents argument 
from falling to pieces of its own dryness. He ful 
fills the promises and justifies the faith of demo- 



180 AMERICANS 

cratic society in his own characteristic fashion, by 
being a great individual, by being a great poet. He 
chiefly serves our society as poets do: "We do not 
fathom you we love you." He is a lover himself 
and the cause of love in others. 

How do I know that he is a great poet? Not 
merely because such judges as Emerson, Tenny 
son and Swinburne have acknowledged his power. 
Not because he has achieved a wide international 
reputation and translations into French, Dutch, 
Danish, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. The 
great court of glory has pronounced unmistakeably 
in his favor; and this award fortifies, to be sure, 
the individual judgment. But there is another very 
simple test, which for some reason or other, is sel 
dom applied to our contemporary verse. What is 
the purpose and the effect of great poetry of 
Homer, The Psalms, Beowulf, the Song of Roland, 
the Divine Comedy, Richard III, Paradise Lost? 
It is to raise man in the midst of his common life 
above the level of his ordinary emotion by filling 
him with a sentiment of his importance as a moral 
being and of the greatness of his destiny. Does 
Whitman's poetry accomplish that end? It does, 
and it will continue to do so with increases of power 
as the depth and sweep of his book, its responses 
to a wide range of need, become familiar in the 
sort of daily exploration through a number of years, 
in dull times and crucial, which such a book can re 
pay. 



WALT WHITMAN 181 

/ 

It is ungracious to say that one can measure the 
magnitude of Whitman by comparing him with his 
successors in the free verse movement; yet a word 
of comparison is almost unavoidable. The way to 
get at the matter is to ask, for example, whether 
the Spoon River Anthology of Mr. Masters 
fills one with a sentiment of one's importance as a 
moral being and of the greatness of one's destiny. 
Does there not fall over most of the figures in our 
late poetic renaissance "the shadow of great events 
from which they have shrunk?" Whitman still 
towers above his American successors as Pike's Peak 
towers above its foothills; and not merely by the 
height of his great argument and the lift of his pas 
sion but also though they surpass him in small 
subtleties and superficial finish by the main mas 
tery of his instrument, the marshalling of his 
phrases, the production of the poetic hypnosis, and 
the accent and winning freshness of his voice. I 
have spoken of his theme and the larger aspects 
of his emotion, and have not space to exhibit his 
surging cumulative effects : 

"Here the doings of men correspond with the broad 
cast doings of the day and night, 

Here is what moves in magnificent masses careless 
of particulars. 

But I should like to leave in a few lines a taste of 
the quality of his voice, responding first to simple 
rapture in the common loveliness of the natural 



182 AMERICANS 

world. Most of us ordinary people feel it when 
we are young and happy, but in Whitman it is a 
perennial incitement to benediction. No other 
American poet communicates so abundantly the 
sheer joy of living: 

Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so 

much, 
The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power 

of motion, 

The least insect or animal, the senses, eyesight, love, 
The first step I say awed me and pleas'd me so much, 
I have hardly gone and hardly wish'd to go any 

farther, 
But stop and loiter all the time to sing it in ecstatic 

songs. 

Add this impression of a prairie sunset: 

Pure luminous color fighting the silent shadows to 
the last. 

And that exquisite line: 

I am he that walks with the tender and growing 
night. 

Then for his note in compassion, read "Recon 
ciliation," remembering that here is no feigned 
emotion, but the very spirit of the man bending 
above some Rebel soldier in the old Washington 
days the bearded angel of spiritual Reconstruc 
tion: 



WALT WHITMAN 183 

Word over all, beautiful as the sky, 

Beautiful that war and all its deeds of carnage must 
in time be utterly lost, 

That the hands of the sisters Death and Night in 
cessantly softly wash again and ever again, 
this soil'd world; 

For my enemy is dead, a man divine as myself is 
dead, 

1 look where he lies white-faced and still in the 
coffin I draw near, 

Bend down and touch lightly with my lips the white 
face in the coffin. 

Or read "A Sight in Camp in the Daybreak Gray 
and Dim," another picture of the dead soldier, end 
ing with a swift mystical vision of his transfiguration 
by the love which passes understanding: 

I think this face is the face of the Christ him 
self, 

Dead and divine and brother of all, and here again 
he lies. 

There is more of the high pity and terror of war, 
more of the valor and tenderness that come straight 
from the magnanimous heart, in Whitman's battle 
chants and dirges than in all our other war poetry 
put together. 

"In Homer and Shakespere," says Whitman truly, 
one will find a "certain heroic ecstasy, which, or the 
suggestion of which, is never absent in the works of 
the masters." That heroic ecstacy is present in 
Whitman himself. There is not a page of him in 



184 AMERICANS 

which he does not impart it. The continuous mir 
acle is that he manages to impart it with only a 
line here and there in the familiar grand style of 
the masters, and these remain, one suspects, by his 
inadvertence as in his salutation to a tawny 
headed warrior: 

Now ending well in death the splendid fever of 
thy deeds, 



Leaving behind thee a memory sweet to soldiers, 
Thou yieldest up thyself. 

These are lines that the old masters would recognize 
as in their style; but the heroic ecstasy lives too in 
the new style of his own: 

Fall behind me States! 

A man before all myself, typical, before all, 

Give me the pay I have served for, 

Give me to sing of the great Idea, take all the rest. 

Or consider his salute: "To Him That Was Cruci 
fied": 

My spirit to yours dear brother, 

Do not mind because many sounding your name 

do not understand you, 
I do not sound your name, but I understand you. 

In nothing does a man measure himself more 
decisively than in his judgment of other men. Whit- 



WALT WHITMAN 185 

man has an instinct and talent for recognizing the 
heroic in literature, in history, among his own con 
temporaries. He recognizes it in Christ, in Lin 
coln, in the nameless crumpled corpse amid the de 
bris of battle ; and he responds to it with the adora 
tion of a kindred spirit. This is a decisive test of 
his quality. This instinct keeps him near the central 
stream of our national life, an unperturbed and 
reassuring pilot in misty weather. In recognition 
of this virtue in him I choose for my last word this 
line of his : 

The years straying toward infidelity he withholds by 
his steady faith. 



VII 

JOAQUIN MILLER: POETICAL CON 
QUISTADOR OF THE WEST 

Joaquin Miller was a picturesque figure on the 
American scene for more than forty years. The 
romantic life which he had conceived and which he 
had, in considerable measure, enacted, he recorded 
in both verse and prose, with due regard for the 
attention of posterity. Though much of his work 
is a genuine conquest, he wrote too easily and he 
wrote too much. In the summer of 1921, only 
eight years after his death, though occasional curi 
ous pilgrims visited his home, The Hights, above 
San Francisco Bay, and carried off a stone from his 
monument to Moses, the Law-Giver, booksellers of 
a dozen shops in the cities that fringe the bay 
looked up with surprise when one inquired for a 
copy of his works, and replied that they had none. 
It is not strange that popular interest refuses to 
float a six-volume edition of Miller. But our liter 
ature is not so rich in distinctive national types 
that we can afford to let this poetical pioneer fade, 
as he is now in danger of fading, into a colorless 

186 



JOAQUIN MILLER 187 

shadow like the once famous scouts that accom 
panied Fremont into the West. 

He is, to be sure, difficult to fix for an adequate 
portrait, because in his time he played several parts; 
and he himself was never quite sure in which of his 
various costumes and poses he would most adorn 
the national gallery. An emigrant from the Mid 
dle Border, a gold-hunter of the Far West, an In 
dian fighter, a frontier judge, he first rose above 
the horizon, in 1871, with assistance and cheers 
from England, as the long-haired, top-booted 
"poet of the Sierras." Even at the outset of his 
career, he was not quite satisfied with that role. 
His own early aspiration was rather to be known 
as "the American Byron;" and, in keeping with 
that high calling, he shook off the dust of his 
native land, wandered for a time in "exile," and 
bore through Italy and the Aegean Isles the page 
ant of his bleeding heart. Following his personal 
contact with the Pre-Raphaelites in London, this 
impressionable mountaineer of the new world dis- 
cipled himself for a brief period in the early 
'seventies to Swinburne and the Rossettis, was in 
tensely "aesthetic," and contemplated devoting 
himself to the Orient. Returning to America 
about 1875, he made through his middle years 
numerous ventures in prose fiction and drama, 
ranging all the way from the Forty-Niners 
and the Indians of the Pacific slope to fast 
life in New York and to the more or less autobio- 



188 AMERICANS 

graphical affairs of the artist Alphonso Murietta in 
Italy ( The One Fair Woman}. In what we may 
call his final period, after his return to California 
in the middle 'eighties, there grew strong in him a 
sense that he was the leader of a native poetical 
movement, a spiritual seer with Messianic or at 
least prophetic mission, and in the flowing hair and 
beard of his last years, stalking majestically under 
the trees which he had planted by his monuments 
on The Hights, and gazing dreamily out over the 
Pacific, he looked the part. 

Now, whatever one may think of Miller's actual 
contribution to poetry or to prose fiction, this evolu 
tion of an Indian fighter into the Moses of the 
Golden Gate is an extraordinary phenomenon. Con 
sidered merely as a detached individual, he is abun 
dantly interesting to the biographer. But he re 
pays sympathetic curiosity most generously perhaps 
when one regards and studies him as a register of 
the power exerted upon the individual by the Ameri 
can environment and the national culture, even at 
their thinnest and crudest. To study him in this 
fashion, the first requisite is a more coherent account 
of his career than has hitherto been available. 
Joaquin Miller was his own principal hero, but by a 
singular fatality his adventures have never been ade 
quately written. Certain scenes and events he him 
self sketched repeatedly; but concerning many pass 
ages of his history he was extremely reticent. What 
is more serious, he had no steady narrative power. 



JOAQUIN MILLER 189 

Lifelong an adventurous rover, in love with action, 
he finds it next to impossible to stick to the thread 
of his story. As soon as he grasps the pen, he 
overflows with sentiment and moralization, and he 
riots in description. Consequently his longer poems 
frequently produce the effect of panorama, and the 
feeling which they present remains obscure till the 
shifting pictures are connected and explained by the 
events of his own life. 

To the student of American culture, the case of 
Joaquin Miller is the more valuable from the fact 
that he did not like Bret Harte, for example put 
on the frontier as a literary garment, after an east 
ern upbringing. By birth and ancestry he belonged 
in the great migration which settled the Middle 
Border and the Far West. He was born in 1841, in 
a covered wagon, "at or about the time it crossed 
the line dividing Indiana from Ohio." His mother, 
Margaret Witt, of Dutch stock from North Caro 
lina, and his father, Hulings Miller, of Scotch stock 
from Kentucky, were married in Indiana ; and after 
some oscillation between Indiana and Ohio, gravi 
tated slowly westward for a decade through the 
Miami Reservation and up along the banks of the 
Wabash and the Tippecanoe rivers, before they 
heard a clear call to follow the overland trail to the 
coast. Meanwhile they made various cabin homes 
for their young family. The mother cooked and 
sewed and wove and spun. The father worked his 
little clearings, failed as storekeeper, served as 



190 AMERICANS 

magistrate, and kept school for the children of the 
wilderness. It was a rough life, but every reference 
of Miller to his childhood indicates that it was in 
many respects a good and happy life; and every 
reference to his parents is marked by a tenderness 
without condescension. These simple people were 
impecunious, restless, and not very shrewd rather 
sentimental and visionary. But they were honest and 
pious, with the pacificism of the Quaker discipline 
and the abolitionism of Horace Greely; they were 
loyal to one another and gentle and affectionate in 
all the family relationships ; they were kindly in their 
intercourse with the Indians of the Reservation; 
and they were hospitable with their meager shelter 
to wanderers less fortunately circumstanced. Most 
of the parents' traits ultimately reappeared in the 
son, from their hospitality to their turn for roving. 
The migratory influences from his immediate fam 
ily were re-enforced by the spirit of the age. The 
Millers were not alone in finding it difficult to "set 
tle down" in the eighteen-forties. It was an ex 
pansive and exploratory epoch in both the physical 
and the intellectual senses. The East was in a 
philosophical and social ferment. Descendants of 
the Puritans, corporeally resident in Concord, were 
extending their mental frontiers to Greece and 
India, and in 1841 Emerson published the first series 
of his essays, "striking up" for a new world. It 
is not clear that these expansive utterances promptly 
reached the Indiana settlement. But between 1842 



JOAQUIN MILLER 191 

and T844 Fremont started a movement which was 
the material complement of Transcendentalism by 
his series of bold expeditions to the Rocky Moun 
tains, Oregon, and California. Fremont's account 
of these explorations Hulings Miller borrowed 
from an Indian agent and read in the evenings to 
his assembled family. "I was never so fascinated," 
says Joaquin, "I never grew so fast in my life. 
Every scene and circumstance in the narrative was 
painted in my mind to last, and to last forever." 
The hide of the "woolly white horse" celebrated in 
Fremont's presidential campaign is exhibited to this 
day in Miller's home in California; and it may be 
mentioned here that Fremont's guide, the hunter 
and Indian fighter Kit Carson, is the hero of one 
of Miller's most readable poems. In 1845 Texas 
was admitted to the Union, and Sam Houston, an 
other of the poet's western heroes, was elected to 
the United States Senate. At about this time the 
Mormons, whom he was to commemorate in The 
Danites, were drifting westward through Illinois 
and Missouri; and in 1847 Brigham Young led the 
faithful into the valley of the Great Salt Lake. 
In 1849 the cry "Gold is discovered in Cali 
fornia!" ran like prairie fire among our middle- 
borderers, and doubled the attraction of the full 
section of land offered to each settler in Oregon, in 
a bill introduced by Senator Linn of Missouri. By 
1850, still another of Miller's heroes, the enigmatic 
William Walker, was in California, soon to be pre- 



192 AMERICANS 

paring his filibustering excursions into Mexico and 
Nicaragua. To add the last attraction, General Joe 
Lane, once a pupil of Hulings Miller in the sugar 
camps of Indiana, had been appointed Governor of 
Oregon. 

The multiplied appeals of the Far West had be 
come irresistible. As soon as they could equip them 
selves for the journey, three years after the dis 
covery of gold, the Millers started for the promised 
land. With a presentiment on his father's part that 
it would some day be a pleasure to go over the 
record, Joaquin, then in his eleventh year, kept a 
journal of the great expedition. Though this un 
fortunately was lost, the poetic residuum of his im 
pressions is preserved in "Exodus for Oregon" and 
"The Ship In The Desert." As he recalled their 
adventure many years later, they set out in wagons 
on the seventeenth of March, 1852; in May, they 
crossed the Missouri above St. Joe, where they 
found the banks for miles crowded with tents 
of the emigrants; followed the Platte River; 
threaded Fremont's South Pass over the Rockies; 
rested at Salt Lake City; skirmished with the In 
dians in the desert; descended to the head waters of 
the Snake River; crossed the Cascade Mountains at 
The Dalles ; and, after seven months and five days, 
ended their march of three thousand miles in Ore 
gon, near the middle of the Willamette Valley 
"the most poetic, gorgeous and glorious valley in 
flowers and snow-covered mountains on the globe." 



JOAQUIN MILLER 193 

Miller's enthusiasm for the scenery of Oregon is 
only equalled by his enthusiasm for the new settlers. 
"The vast multitude," he declares, that fought their 
way across the plains in the face of cholera, hos 
tile Indians, famine, and drouth, "was, as a rule, 
religious, and buried their dead with hymns and 
prayers, all along the dreary half year's journey on 
which no coward ever ventured, and where the weak 
fell by the wayside, leaving a natural selection of 
good and great people, both in soul and body." 

It was about two years after the establishment of 
the Millers in Oregon that Joaquin's independent 
adventures began. They had cultivated a little land, 
bought a few cows and sheep and hens, and were 
running a tavern in a small way. The father and 
elder brother were now absent teaching school, and 
Joaquln and his younger brother Jimmy were left 
with their mother to look after the place. Stories 
brought up from the mining camps of California 
by pedlars and itinerant preachers had for some 
time been making him restless; and it had been 
conceded, he says, that he was ultimately to be 
allowed to seek his fortune in the wicked and dan 
gerous territory to the southward. In his four 
teenth year, anticipating the parental consent, he ran 
away, and joining a party of miners who were open 
ing a placer claim in a wooded gulch by the Klamath 
River, just below the border between Oregon and 
California, he offered his services as cook and dish 
washer. Here began his more intimate acquaintance 



194 AMERICANS 

with the tougher and more miscellaneous element 
of the western population which was streaming 
through the Golden Gate the Australians, the 
European adventurers, the Mexicans, the Chinese, 
and questionable wanderers from eastern cities. 
And here, if his memory is to be trusted, he wrote 
his first song, in celebration of an adjutant cook's 
marriage to a woman from Australia. 

Joaquin was at this time small for his age, slen 
der, pale, frail-looking, with hair of the color of 
"hammered gold," reaching to his shoulders. The 
camp diet of bacon and beans did not agree with 
him and his first mining experience was terminated 
by a serious attack of scurvy. He was nursed back 
to health in Yreka by Dr. Ream and a "kind little 
Chinaman;" and then was taken by a mysterious 
stranger to another camp for the winter by the 
forks of several little streams which flow into the 
Klamath River from the north of Mt. Shasta. 
Here, at a later period, he laid the scene of The 
Danltes "my famous play but have always been 
sorry I printed it, as it is unfair to the Mor 
mons and the Chinese." The tall stranger with 
whom he spent the winter is another of his heroes 
whom at this time he seems to have regarded with 
unqualified adoration. He figures so largely and 
mysteriously in his work that he requires identifica 
tion. In the introduction to the collected poems he 
is described merely as "the Prince," and is said 
to have gone "south," in the spring of 1855. But in 



JOAQUIN MILLER 195 

the Life r Among tine Modocs, 1873, he is repre 
sented as a very handsome and romantic profes 
sional gambler of great courage and chivalrous 
nature who was generally understood to be a prince, 
but who, after fighting with Walker in Nicaragua, 
acknowledged himself to be only plain James 
Thompson, an American. In 1876, Miller dedi 
cated his First Families Of The Sierras as follows : 
"To my old companion in arms, Prince Jamie 
Tomas, of Leon, Nicaragua." But that this "Prince 
Jamie Tomas" was the James Thompson of "Life 
Among The Modocs and the mysterious stranger 
of the autobiographical sketch is made clear at last 
by a footnote to the poem called "Thomas of 
Tigre," in the fourth volume of the Bear Edition. 
After the departure of "the Prince," the most 
influential friend of the strange boyhood days on 
Mt. Shasta was another mysterious figure, Joseph 
De Bloney, whom Miller met in the spring of 1855. 
In an apparently serious sketch of him, included in 
Memorle and Rime, De Bloney is described as "a 
Californian John Brown in a small way." Accord 
ing to this account, he was of an old noble Swiss 
family, and had probably crossed the plains with 
Fremont under an impulse similar to that which 
animated Brigham Young in Utah and Walker in 
Nicaragua an impulse to found a new state. "His 
ambition was to unite the Indians about the base 
of Mt. Shasta and establish a sort of Indian repub 
lic, the prime and principal object of which was 



196 AMERICANS 

to set these Indians entirely apart from the ap 
proach of the white man, draw an impassable line, 
in fact, behind which the Indian would be secure in 
his lands, his simple life, his integrity, and his purity. 
... It was a hard undertaking at best, perilous, al 
most as much as a man's life was worth to befriend 
an Indian in those stormy days on the border, when 
every gold-hunter . . . counted it his privi 
lege, if not his duty to shoot an Indian on sight. 
An Indian sympathizer was more hated in those 
days, is still, than ever was an abolitionist. . . . 
De Bloney gradually gathered about twenty-five 
men around him in the mountains, took up homes, 
situated his men around him, planted, dug gold, 
did what he could to civilize the people and subdue 
the savages. . . . But he had tough elements 
to deal with. The most savage men were the white 
men. The Indians, the friendly ones, were the 
tamest of his people. These white men would come 
and go; now they would marry the Indian women 
and now join a prospecting party and disappear for 
months, even years. At one time nearly all went 
off to join Walker in Nicaragua." 

Under the influence of this odd character, young 
Joaquin seems for the time to have forgotten the 
Oregon homestead, and to have embraced the dream 
of a little Indian republic on Mt. Shasta. Between 
1855 and 1859 he represents himself as living in the 
shadow of the mountains with De Bloney and the 
Indians and "Indian Joe," a scout and horsetrader 



JOAQUIN MILLER 197 

of German birth, who had been with Fremont, and 
who furnished Miller some of the materials for his 
poems. He was also on intimate terms with the 
Indian Chief Blackbeard, who, he remarks in 
Memorie and Rime, had a very beautiful daughter, 
and gave him a "beautiful little valley," where he 
built a cabin, and "first began to write." According 
to Life Among the Modocs, a romance with an auto 
biographical core, he married the chief's daughter 
and became eventually the leader in the movement 
to unite the tribes in an Indian republic. These 
stories of his Indian bride and of his fighting de 
fiance of the white men seem rather more plausible 
when one forgets that he was but fourteen when he 
remarked the beauty of the girl and only seventeen 
when he assumed the responsibilities for which, ac 
cording to Memorie and Rime, De Bloney's grow 
ing inebriety disqualified him. 

Viewed from within by a romantic poet, this 
colony of adventurers and Indians was a noble en 
terprise for the preservation of an oppressed race; 
viewed from without it probably seemed more like 
a nest of horse-thieves. Its importance for Miller 
was partly in its development of his romantic sym 
pathy with the outlaw. In a paper on "How I 
Came To Be A Writer Of Books," contributed to 
Lippincott's in 1886, he illustrates this point, and, at 
the same time, explains the origin of his pen-name 
"Joaquin." His parents had called him Cincin- 
natus Heine (or Hiner) ; but, during his sojourn on 



198 AMERICANS 

Mt. Shasta, his friends had already begun to em 
ploy the more familiar name. According to this 
account, he had made several trips with Mexican 
horse and mule drivers down into Arizona and 
northern Mexico, and, on these expeditions, "these 
Mexicans were most kind to me." They, on the 
contrary, were treated by the Anglo-Saxon con 
querors of California with a brutality which was 
"monstrous." "It was this," says Miller, "that had 
driven Joaquin Murietta, while yet a youth, to be 
come the most terrible and bloody outlaw our land 
has ever known. A reward of many thousands had 
been offered for his head, he had been captured, 
killed, and his head was in spirits and on exhibition 
in San Francisco, 1 when I took up my pen for the 
first time and wrote a public letter in defence of the 
Mexicans." In consequence of this letter, he was 
banteringly identified by a Sacramento paper with 
the bandit. His friends continued the banter. The 
name was revived when he returned to Oregon, and 
was employed to twit him, when he became an 
editor. And so he finally accepted it and used it in 
the title of his first book. 

In the chapter of his relations with the Indians, 
there are manifold obscurities and contradictions. 
He adhered pretty consistently throughout his life 
to the assertion that he was in three Indian battles 



1 In spite of this capital evidence, Miller elsewhere raises a doubt 
whether Joaquin Murietta had actually been killed, and plays with 
the notion that he himself may have been the original "Joaquin." 



JOAQUIN MILLER 199 

or campaigns, the Battle of Castle Rocks, the "Pit 
River War," and a later campaign in Oregon. But 
according to one set of stories he figures as a rene 
gade fighting with the Indians against the whites; 
while according to the other set of stories he is 
fighting with the whites against the Indians. The 
chief sources of the renegade story are Life Amongst 
the Modocs and Memorie and Rime; but he still 
calls himself a renegade in the introduction to the 
Bear Edition. On the other hand, there is in exist- 
ance among the papers preserved by the Miller 
family a petition to the government for damages, 
drawn up by Miller but never presented, in which 
he represents himself as the victim of Indian depre 
dations; and in his annotations of the poem "Old 
Gib At Castle Rocks," he establishes by a sworn 
affidavit that this first battle was against the 
"Modocs and Other Renegades," and that his 
wound in the head was received while he was fight 
ing at Judge Gibson's side. In Memorie and Rime, 
however, he declares that the Battle of Castle Rocks 
was fought under the leadership of De Bloney, to 
punish unfriendly Indians for burning his camp. 
But in the introduction to the Bear Edition, he says 
nothing of De Bloney; the leader of Miller's party 
is there represented as Mountain Joe, who in the 
battle unites forces with Judge Gibson, the alcalde 
of the district. 

The disparities in his various accounts may be 
explained in three ways. First, Miller did in his 



200 AMERICANS 

poems and prose narratives deliberately adulterate 
his facts with imaginary elements in the interest 
of romance, and like his early model Lord Byron, 
he enjoyed and encouraged identification of himself 
with all his hard-riding, hard-fighting, and amorous 
heroes. Secondly, he tells us that as a result of his 
arrow wound in the head and neck at the Battle 
of Castle Rocks, "on the 15th day of June, 1855," 
he lost his memory for months, was "nearly a year" 
in recovering, and was somewhat feeble minded for 
some time after. Thirdly, if he ever actually be 
came a renegade and participated in outlaw raids, 
when he returned to civilization, he indulged in wise 
"lapses of memory." 

With a consciousness, then, that we are tread 
ing the uncertain border between fact and fiction, 
we pull the arrow from Joaquin's neck in the sum 
mer of 1855, and commit him to the care of an 
Indian woman, who treats him as her son. Late in 
the fall, restored at last to his senses and beginning 
to recover his strength, he teaches school in a min 
ing camp near Shasta City at night and tries to 
mine by day rather strenuous activities for a 
feeble-minded convalescent! But in the following 
spring, 1856, he again joins the red men on the 
mountain. "When the Modocs rose up one night 
and massacred eighteen men, every man in Pitt 
River Valley, I alone was spared" thus runs the 
introduction to the Bear Edition "and spared only 
because I was Los bobo, the fool. Then more bat- 



JOAQUIN MILLER 201 

ties and two more wounds. My mind was as the 
mind of a child and my memory is uncertain here." 
But according to Memorie and Rime, news of the 
Pitt River massacre came to Joaquin in the spring 
of 1857, when he was encamped on the spurs of Mt. 
Shasta, "sixty miles distant;" so that it must have 
been in a later stage of the "war" that he got his 
"bullet through the right arm." Had he complicity 
in the massacre? He raises the question. He says 
that he knew in advance that it had been planned, 
and he sympathized with its perpetrators years 
later. Following it, he made an expedition to 
Shasta City for ammunition to arm De Bloney's 
Indians "against the brutal and aggressive white 
men" ; had a horse shot under him by the pursuing 
whites, stole another horse, was overtaken, threat 
ened with hanging, lodged in Shasta City jail, "and 
my part in the wild attempt to found an Indian 
republic was rewarded with a prompt indictment for 
stealing horses." This, he says, was in 1859. Af 
ter long confinement, he was delivered from jail by 
the Indians on the night of the 4th of July, thrown 
upon a horse, "and such a ride for freedom and 
fresh air was never seen before." (See Memorie 
and Rime, pp. 234-235 ; Life Amongst the Modocs, 
chap, xxx, and The Tale of the Tall Alcalde.) 

Miller hints, in Memorie and Rime, at one more 
disastrous attempt to carry out De Bloney's plan 
for the republic, followed by separation from his 
leader, and flight to Washington Territory. But 



202 AMERICANS 

in the introduction to the Bear Edition, he inter 
poses at this point in his career, though without 
dates and vaguely and briefly, his connection with 
the filibuster William Walker. "I, being a rene 
gade," he says, "descended to San Francisco and 
set sail for Boston, but stopped at Nicaragua with 
Walker." In his poem "With Walker in Nicara 
gua," he represents himself as riding side by side 
with the filibuster in his campaigns and as treated 
by him like a son; and he always encouraged the 
common belief that his poem had a substantial auto 
biographical core. There is a good deal of evidence 
for concluding that it had none. Walker sailed 
from San Francisco in May and landed in Nicara 
gua on June 16, 1855. On the previous day, Miller 
was wounded at Castle Rocks, in northern Califor 
nia. In May, 1857, Walker left Nicaragua and 
was a paroled prisoner in the United States till 
August, 1860, when he landed in Honduras, where 
he was executed on the 12th of September in the 
same year. Miller later associated himself with his 
hero by publishing the last words of Walker, ob 
tained from the priest who attended the execution ; 
but Miller says in his notes on the poem in the Bear 
Edition: "I was not with him on this last expedi 
tion." Of course the intended implication is that 
he was with Walker on a previous expedition. Re 
cruits from California sailed down to join the fili 
buster at frequent intervals, it is true, and Miller 
may conceivably have visited Nicaragua with one of 



JOAQUIN MILLER 203 

these parties ; but if any credit is to be given to his 
Indian stories, he was recovering from his Castle 
Rocks wound from June, 1855, till the spring of 
1856, when he joined the red men on the moun 
tains; he spends the winter on the spurs of Mt. 
Shasta, and in the spring of 1857 he becomes impli 
cated in the Pitt River Valley War, in which he is 
again seriously wounded; and his connections with 
this affair are not terminated till 1859. He might 
then have set out in time to join Walker's fatal 
expedition in Honduras; but he tells us that he did 
not. Walker, in his account of The War in Nica 
ragua, published in 1860, nowhere mentions the boy 
whom he is alleged to have fathered. One's final 
impression is that the poem is fiction, colored by the 
tales and published narratives of the filibusters 
and perhaps by Miller's subsequent acquaintance 
with Central America. And this impression is 
strengthened by Miller's reply to one who asked him 
point blank whether he was ever with Walker in 
Nicaragua: "Was Milton ever in Hell?" 2 

The fiasco of De Bloney's and Joaquin's Mt. 
Shasta "republic" fell, according to the legend, in 
the year of John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, 
and two years after the ejection of Walker from 
Nicaragua. In Miller's mind these three curious 
attempts to escape from the jurisdiction of the 
United States became closely associated memories 

a For this anecdote I am indebted to Mrs. Miller. 



204 AMERICANS 

of forlorn hopes, with a singular appeal to his 
imagination. Writing at Harper's Ferry in 1883 
(Memorie and Rime, 228 ff.), he gives this account 
of his movements and sentiments following his 
alleged connection with Walker and De Bloney: 
"I made my way to Washington Territory, sold my 
pistols, and settled down on the banks of the Co 
lumbia, near Lewis River, and taught school. And 
here it was that the story of John Brown, his raid, 
his fight, his capture, and his execution, all came 
to me. Do you wonder that my heart went out to 
him and remained with him? I, too, had been in 
jail. Death and disgrace were on my track, and 
might find me any day hiding there under the trees 
in the hearts of the happy children. And so, sympa 
thizing, I told these children over and over again 
the story of old John Brown there." 

From 1860 to 1870, Miller was chiefly an Ore- 
gonian, though he made many excursions from his 
base. We shall have to notice one more interesting 
inconsistency which casts a suspicion over his ac 
count of his life with the Indians. In the introduc 
tion to the Bear Edition, he says in his baffling 
summary fashion, without dates, that on his return 
from being "with Walker," he "went home, went 
to college some, taught school some, studied law at 
home some." Now, in a note to the Bear Edition 
(vol. ii, p. 185), he speaks of teaching school in 
1858 below Fort Vancouver, "during vacation at 
Columbia College, the forerunner of the Oregon 



JOAQUIN MILLER 205 

University"; and, in another note (vol. i, p. 170), 
he says that he wrote "the valedictory class poem" 
for Columbia College in 1859. It thus appears that 
his attendance at "Columbia College" falls in the 
period when, according to his other stories, he was 
engaged in his last desperate efforts to establish De 
Bloney's "Mt. Shasta republic"; and that his vale 
dictory poem was apparently delivered in the year 
in which he fled from Californian justice to hide in 
Washington Territory. 

If one thinks of Miller as having taken a regular 
college course ending in 1859, then one must be 
prepared to dismiss most of the Mt. Shasta stories 
as mythical; and doubtless there is a large element 
of fiction in them. They are not, however, quite 
so inconsistent with the "college" course as at first 
sight they appear. Eugene City, in which the "col 
lege" was located, was not settled till 1854; and 
the institution, with its "pleasant campus," in which 
the poem was perhaps delivered five years later, was 
nothing more than a small-town high school or 
seminary. And Miller, returning from California 
in 1858, or even as late as 1859, might, after a very 
brief instruction, have appeared as class poet in 
1859. It is, moreover, unfortunately necessary to 
regard the statements about his own life made to 
wards the close of his literary career with almost 
as much skepticism as those which he made near its 
outset and for an interesting reason. In his last 
period, as the seer on The Hights, Miller desired 



206 AMERICANS 

to be regarded as an authoritative man of letters; 
consequently he minimized his frontier upbringing 
and magnified his education and general culture. 
Furthermore, he ultimately desired to be regarded 
as devoutly American and as intensely pacifistic; 
consequently he touched very lightly in later years 
the period when he was a secessionist, he skilfully 
hinted here and there that the stories of his out 
lawry were mythical, and he worked over his poems, 
making great excisions and adding new passages, 
with the purpose of harmonizing them with his 
declaration that he would rather starve than be 
celebrated as the poetic glorifier of war. 3 This was 
obviously a difficult task in the case of the bloody 
and imperialistic career of Walker. 

In the summer of 1861 Miller began other inter 
esting adventures which are better attested. At this 
time he was riding Mossman and Miller's pony ex 
press, carrying letters and gold dust between Walla 



* " 'The Tale of the Alcalde,' he says in his note in the Bear 
edition, "has been a fat source of feeding for grimly humorous 
and sensational writers, who long ago claimed to have found in it 
the story of my early life ; and, strangely enough, I was glad 
when they did so, and read their stories with wild delight. I don't 
know why I always encouraged this idea of having been an outlaw, 
but I recall that when Trelawny told me that Byron was more 
ambitious to be thought the hero of his wildest poems than even 
to be King of Greece, I could not help saying to myself, as Napo 
leon said to the thunders preceding Waterloo, 'We are of accord.' 
The only serious trouble about the claim that I made the fight of 
life up the ugly steeps from a hole in an adobe prison wall to the 
foothills of Olympus, instead of over the pleasant campus of a 
college, is the fact that 'our friends the enemy' fixed the date at 
about the same time in which I am on record as reading my class 
poem in another land." 



JOAQUIN MILLER 207 

Walla, Washington, and the newly opened mines 
at Millersburg, in Idaho. Attracted by certain con 
tributions of "Minnie Myrtle" appearing in the 
newspapers of his pack, he wrote to her and had 
replies. His mining ventures yielded him enough to 
enable him to build "a beautiful new home" for his 
parents, and also to buy a newspaper. In 1863 he 
began to edit The Democratic Register in Eugene, 
Oregon, and he avowed southern sympathies which 
aroused the community. Though he had been 
brought up an ardent abolitionist and his elder 
brother John had entered the Northern army, he 
himself had imbibed, in his "college," which was 
tainted with disloyalty, or from the friends of Wal 
ker, who was a pro-slavery man, or elsewhere he 
had imbibed principles and sentiments obnoxious to 
the aroused Unionist spirit of Oregon. As he ex 
plained it in Memorie and Rime, "when the war 
came, and the armies went down desolating the 
South, then with that fatality that has always fol 
lowed me for getting on the wrong side, siding with 
the weak, I forgot my pity for the one in my larger 
pity for the other." 

His entrance into journalism brought him again 
to the attention of his unknown correspondent, 
"Minnie Myrtle," who was then living in a mining 
and lumber camp at Port Orford by the sea, not far 
from the southern boundary of Oregon. Twenty 
years later, when this lady died in New York, in 
May, 1883, Miller told in his own fashion the story 



208 AMERICANS 

of his brief unhappy relations with her. Since they 
made a turning point in his career and introduced 
into his poetry additional "Byronic" notes, let us 
have an abridgement of his own version of the affair 
as set forth in Memorie and Rime: 

When I came down from the mountains and em 
barked in journalism, she wrote to me, and her 
letters grew ardent and full of affection. Then I 
mounted my horse and rode hundreds of miles 
through the valleys and over the mountains, till I 
came to the sea, at Port Orford, then a flourishing 
mining town, and there first saw "Minnie Myrtle." 
Tall, dark, and striking in every respect, . . . this 
first Saxon woman I had ever addressed had it all 
her own way at once. She knew nothing at all of 
my life, except that I was an expressman and coun 
try editor. I knew nothing at all of hers, but I 
found her with kind, good parents, surrounded by 
brothers and sisters, and the pet and spoiled child 
of the mining and lumber camp. . . . The heart of 
the bright and merry girl was brimming full of ro 
mance, hope, and happiness. I arrived on Thurs 
day. On Sunday next we were married! Oh, to 
what else but ruin and regret could such romantic 
folly lead? 

"Procuring a horse for her" for she, too, was 
an excellent and daring rider "we set out at once 
to return to my post, far away over the mountains." 
After a week's ride, the bridal couple reached their 
intended home in Eugene, "but only to find that my 
paper had been suppressed by the Government, and 
we resolved to seek our fortunes in San Francisco. 



JOAQUIN MILLER 209 

But we found neither fortune nor friends in that 
great city." In 1863 Mrs. Fremont was there, and 
Charles Warren Stoddard, and Prentice Mulford, 
and Ina Coolbrith. Bret Harte was writing for 
The Golden Era. The nucleus was already formed 
of the literary group which Mark Twain joined in 
1864, and which launched The Calif ornian and The 
Overland Monthly. Whether at this time Miller 
made any attempt to break into the "western 
school" does not appear. If he did so, we can 
understand his failure. He was still a very imma 
ture writer, though Stoddard records that he did 
contribute to The Golden Era, "from the backwood 
depths of his youthful obscurity." But coming as he 
did in the midst of the Civil War to the outskirts 
of a group animated by Bret Harte, then engaged 
in writing strongly patriotic verse and prose, the 
editor of a paper which had just been suppressed 
for disloyalty could hardly have expected a very 
cordial reception. 

One is tempted to conjecture that Miller's failure 
to establish a literary or journalistic connection in 
the city may perhaps have dashed a little the spirits 
of his bride. At any rate, he says that even while 
they were living in San Francisco, she had presenti 
ments of "wreck and storm and separation for us." 
If thwarted aspiration for more literary and social 
life than she had enjoyed in the lumber camp had 
stimulated these presentiments, they rrast have been 
strengthened when Joaquin bought a band of cattle 



210 AMERICANS 

and journeyed with his wife and baby to a new min 
ing camp at Canyon City, in eastern Oregon. As 
for him, it was the life to which he had always 
been accustomed, and he threw himself into the task 
of establishing himself with unwonted application of 
his restless energy. He practised law among the 
miners, he planted the first orchard in the land, he 
led in his third Indian campaign; he was rewarded 
in 1866 by election, for a four-year term, as judge 
of the Grant County court, and finally, he had begun 
to occupy himself seriously with poetry. In 1868 
he published a pamphlet of Specimens, and in 1869, 
at Portland, Oregon, his first book: "Joaquin, Et 
AL, by Cincinnatus H. Miller" dedicated "To 
Maud." 4 

Ambition and a multitude of business, as he de 
picted the matter, made him not the most genial of 
companions : 

Often I never left my office till the gray dawn, 
after a day of toil and a night of study. My health 
gave way and I was indeed old and thoughtful. 
Well, all this, you can see, did not suit the merry- 
hearted and spoiled child of the mines at all. . . . 
She became the spoiled child here that she had been 
at her father's, and naturally grew impatient at my 
persistent toil and study. But she was good all the 
time. . . . Let me say here, once for all, that no 
man or woman can put a finger on any stain in this 

4 The contents were : "Joaquin," "Is It Worth While ?" "Zanara," 
"In Exile," "To the Bards of S. F. Bay," "Merinda," "Nepenthe," 
"Under the Oaks," "Dirge," "Vale," "Benoni," and "Ultime." 



JOAQUIN MILLER 211 

woman's whole record of life, so far as truth and 
purity go. But she was not happy here. Impatient 
of the dull monotony of the exhausted mining camp, 
. . . she took her two children and returned to her 
mother, while I sold the little home, . . . promis 
ing to follow her, yet full of ambition now to be 
elected to a place on the Supreme Bench of the 
State. . . . She had been absent from me quite a 
year, when ... I went to Portland, seeking the 
nomination for the place I desired. But the poor 
impatient lady, impulsive as always, and angry that 
I had kept so long away, had forwarded papers 
from her home, hundreds of miles remote, to a 
lawyer here, praying for a divorce. This so put me 
to shame that I abandoned my plans and resolved 
to hide my head in Europe. 

To "hide" his head was hardly the prime object 
of Miller's first trip abroad, nor, except by a wide 
poetic license, can the phrase be used to describe his 
activities there. His object was more candidly pre 
sented in a line of his Byronic "Ultime," the last 
poem of the little volume, Joaquin, Et Al., published 
in Portland in 1869 a poem written as if in pre 
monition of death : 

It was my boy ambition to be read beyond the 
brine. 

As soon as Joaquin, Et Al. was published, what 
Miller burned for was literary recognition impos 
sible on the Oregon frontier. In March of 1869, 
he wrote from Portland to Charles Warren Stod- 
dard to solicit his interest in getting the book ade- 



212 AMERICANS 

quately noticed in The Overland Monthly, which 
had been launched two months before. Stoddard 
was absent in Hawaii; but in January, 1870, Bret 
Harte gave Joaquin a humorous but not unfriendly 
salute in the new magazine: "We find in ' Joaquin, 
Et Al. y the true poetic instinct, with a natural felic 
ity of diction and a dramatic vigour that are good 
in performance and yet better in promise. Of 
course, Mr. Miller is not entirely easy in harness, 
but is given to pawing and curvetting; and at such 
times his neck is generally clothed with thunder and 
the glory of his nostrils is terrible." 

Following this recognition from the leading lit 
erary periodical of the Far West, Miller came 
down from Oregon to embrace the bards of San 
Francisco Bay so romantically addressed by him 
in Joaquin, Et AL came to embrace them and to 
be embraced by them "clad," says Stoddard, who 
had now returned from Hawaii, "in a pair of 
beaded moccasins, a linen 'duster' that fell nearly 
to his heels, and a broad-brimmed sombrero" 
Fresh, breezy, ingenuous, Miller exclaimed at once, 
"Well, let us go and talk with the poets." Stoddard 
took him around to call upon Bret Harte, and pre 
sented him also to the most lyrical third of their 
trinity, the local Sappho, Ina Coolbrith, who was 
at once impressive and sympathetic. But on the 
whole, literary glory at the Golden Gate was paler 
than his expectations "he had been somewhat 
chilled by his reception in the metropolis." Had 



JOAQUIN MILLER 213 

he really desired to hide his head, he might have 
accepted Stoddard's invitation to flee away with him 
to the South Seas. Instead of doing so, Miller ac 
cepted a wreath of laurel from Ina Coolbrith, to 
lay on the tomb of Byron, and, in midsummer of 
1870, "started for England in search of fame and 
fortune." 

One dwells upon this first return to the old world, 
because now one sees for the first time adequately 
manifested the literary sensibility and the imagina 
tive yearning which for years had been secretly 
growing in the heart of the judge of Grant County, 
Oregon. Here is an astounding fact: jottings from 
a diary, preserved in Memorle and Rime, prove that 
this backwoodsman went abroad, not with the 
jaunty insolence of Mark Twain's jolly Philistines, 
but rather in the mood of Henry James's delicately 
nurtured "passionate pilgrims" of the decade fol 
lowing the Civil War, those sentimental and aestheti 
cally half-starved young Americans who in the 
middle years of the last century flung themselves 
with tearful joy on England and Europe as the dear 
homeland of their dreams. There is a touch, some 
times more than a touch, of the theatrical in his 
gesture; but there is an unquestionable depth of 
sincere feeling animating the performance as a 
whole. 

There is even a touch of pathos the more af 
fecting because he himself, for once, seems hardly 
aware of it in the memoranda of his departure 



214 AMERICANS 

from New York. He bought his ticket on August 
10, 1870, "second class, ship Europa, Anchor Line, 
to land at Glasgow; and off to-morrow." While 
waiting for the sailing, he notes that he has tried 
in vain to see Horace Greeley and Henry Ward 
Beecher, but has got some leaves from a tree by the 
door of Beecher's church "to send to mother." 
There, in a sentence, was his unconscious epitome 
of what the higher culture of the American metrop 
olis had to offer in 1870 to a passionate pilgrim, to 
a romantic poet: the editorials of a great journalist, 
the sermons of a great preacher a rebuff from the 
office of the one, and a leaf from a tree of the other. 
A note of the voyage, which he seems to have found 
very dreary, reminds us that the Franco-Prussian 
War was then in progress: "A lot of Germans go- 
ig home to fight filled the ship ; a hard, rough lot, 
and they ate like hogs." 

Arrived in Scotland, he turns his back on com 
mercial Glasgow, and makes straight for the haunts 
of Burns. On September 10, he writes: "God bless 
these hale and honest Scotch down here at peace 
ful Ayr. . . . One man showed me more than a 
hundred books, all by Ayrshire poets, and some of 
them splendid! I have not dared to tell any one 
yet that I too hope to publish a book of verse. . . . 
I go every day from here to the 'Auld Brig' over the 
Doon, Highland Mary's grave, and Alloway's auld 
haunted kirk. . . . Poetry is in the air here. I 
am working like a beaver. . . . September 1 8 : In 



JOAQUIN MILLER 215 

the sunset to-day, as I walked out for the last time 
toward the tomb of Highland Mary, I met a whole 
line of splendid Scotch lassies with sheaves of wheat 
on their heads and sickles on their arms. Their feet 
were bare, their legs were bare to the knees. Their 
great strong arms were shapely as you can conceive ; 
they were tall, and their lifted faces were radiant 
with health and happiness. I stepped aside in the 
narrow road to enjoy the scene and let them pass. 
They were going down the sloping road toward 
some thatched cottages by the sea, I towards the 
mountains. How beautiful! I uncovered my head 
as I stepped respectfully aside. But giving the road 
to women here seems to be unusual. ..." Having 
paid his devotion to Burns, his "brother," he goes 
on into the Scott country, wades the Tweed, and 
spends a night in Dryburg Abbey. 

Thence he proceeds, with ever more reverential 
mood, to Nottingham, where he lays his western 
laurel on the tomb of his "master," Byron, and 
bargains with the caretaker "to keep the wreath 
there as long as he lives (or I have sovereigns)." 
"O my poet!" he cries, "worshipped where the 
world is glorious with the fire and the blood of 
youth! Yet here in your own home ah, well!" 
The parallelism between Byron's fate and his own, 
on which he broods in Nottingham, stimulates him 
to fresh poetical efforts. On September 28, the 
record runs: 



216 AMERICANS 

Have written lots of stuff here. I have been 
happy here. I have worked and not thought of 
the past. But to-morrow I am going down to Hull, 
cross the Channel, and see the French and Germans 
fight. For I have stopped work and begun to look 
back. ... I see the snow-peaks of Oregon all 
the time when I stop work. . . . And then the 
valley at the bottom of the peaks; the people there; 
the ashes on the hearth; the fire gone out. . . . 
The old story of Orpheus in hell has its awful 
lesson. I, then, shall go forward and never look 
back any more. Hell, I know, is behind me. There 
cannot be worse than hell before me. . . . Yet for 
all this philosophy and this setting the face forward, 
the heart turns back. 

After a glimpse of the war, he began on Novem 
ber 2, 1870, his adventures in London which he 
found delightfully different from New York by 
walking straight to Westminster Abbey, guided 
only by the spirit in his feet. Later, he continued 
his passionate pilgrimage by looking up the haunts 
of Washington Irving and Bayard Taylor, and he 
lived for a while in Camberwell, because Browning 
had lived there. In February, 1871, he was lodged 
in a garret of the poet Cowley's house, "right back 
of the Abbey," looking out on Virginia creepers 
planted by Queen Elizabeth, and listening to the 
sound of the city's bells. Refreshed from his bath 
in the stream of poetic tradition and "atmospheri 
cally" inspired, Miller made a little book called 
Pacific Poems, containing "Arazonian" (sic) and 



JOAQUIN MILLER 217 

his drama "Oregonia," and having printed, at his 
own expense, a hundred copies, scoured the city 
seeking a publisher. But the publishers would have 
none of it. Murray, "son of the great Murray, 
Byron's friend," received him, indeed, and showed 
him many pictures of Byron, but rejected the prof 
fered opportunity to become Joaquin's publisher, 
saying, with definitive uplifted finger: "Aye, now, 
don't you know poetry won't do? Poetry won't do, 
don't you know?" 

In other quarters he met with better fortune. 
Knocking at the door of Punch, as a nameless 
American, he was cordially received by "my first, 
firmest friend in London," a man in whose arms 
Artemus Ward had died, Tom Hood, son of the 
famous humorist. By March, 1871, he got his 
Pacific Poems to the reviews and into a kind of 
private circulation without a publisher. Almost at 
once both book and author began to catch the fancy 
of the London literary tasters, who are always 
hospitably inclined to real curiosities from overseas, 
and welcome a degree of crudity in a transatlantic 
writer as evidence that he is genuinely American. 
By the end of the month, "Arazonian" was attrib 
uted by the Saint James Gazette to Robert Brown 
ing; and, notes the diary, "Walter Thornbury, 
Dickens' dear friend, and a better poet than I can 
hope to be, has hunted me up, and says big things 
of the 'Pacific Poems' in the London Graphic" 
There are, moreover, "two splendid enthusiasts 



218 AMERICANS 

from Dublin University." And, finally, Tom Hood 
has introduced him to the society poet of the city, 
who, in turn, has given him letters "to almost every 
body"; and so he is socially launched. With this 
encouragement and backing, he attacks the publish 
ers again, this time successfully. By April, 1871, 
Longmans has brought out his Songs of the Sierras, 
and Miller's "boy ambition" is accomplished. 

At one stride he had stepped from backwoods 
obscurity into the full noontide of glory; and it is 
not strange that the remembrance of his English 
reception dazzled him for the rest of his life. It 
is hardly an exaggeration to say that this acclaim 
was instantaneous, enthusiastic, and unanimous 
"over-generous," he called it, years later, when he 
published in the Bear Edition some thirty pages of 
appreciations from the English press, including The 
Spectator, The Athenaeum, The Saturday Review, 
The Pall Mall Gazette, The Illustrated London 
News, The Academy, The Evening Standard, The 
Westminster Review, The Dark Blue, The London 
Sunday Times, Chamber's Journal, Frazer's Maga 
zine, The Evening Post, The Globe, The Morning 
Post, and others. These are largely concerned with 
his first volume, Songs of the Sierras. The re 
viewers, in general, touch lightly upon his obvious 
inequalities, blemishes, slips in grammar, and faults 
in metre; some of them apologize slightly for his 
frontier culture; more recognize it boldly as the 
source of his power, and proceed to speak in glow- 



JOAQUIN MILLER 219 

ing terms of his freshness of theme and treatment, 
of his tropical color, his myth-making power, his 
fluent, rapid, and melodious verse, and "the su 
preme independence, the spontaneity, the all-per 
vading passion, the unresting energy, and the prod 
igal wealth of imagery which stamp the poetry 
before us." 

They did not hesitate, this chorus of reviewers, 
to tell him that his poetry was the most important 
that had ever come out of America. Nor did they 
stop with this equivocal praise. The Athenaum 
found him like Browning in his humor and in the 
novelty of his metaphors. The Saturday Review 
dwelt on his Byronic qualities, and remarked in him 
"a ring of genuineness which is absent from Byron." 
The Westminster Review thought that he reminded 
one of Whitman, with the coarseness left out. And 
The Academy gravely declared that "there is an 
impassable gap between the alien couleur locale of 
even so great a poet as Victor Hugo in such a work 
as Les Orientates, and the native recipiency of one 
like our California author, whose very blood and 
bones are related to the things he describes, and 
from whom a perception and a knowledge so ex 
tremely unlike our own are no more separable than 
his eye, and his brain." 

In the wake of the journalistic ovation, social 
invitations came in upon the poet faster than he 
could accept or answer them. Among those which 
he had pushed aside were three letters signed 



220 AMERICANS 

"Dublin." His Irish friends discovered these and 
explained that they were from the Archbishop 
(Trench). "At 'Dublin's' breakfast," says Miller, 
"I met Robert Browning, Dean Stanley, Lady Au 
gusta, a lot more ladies, and a duke or two, and 
after breakfast 'Dublin' read to me with his five 
beautiful daughters grouped about from Brown 
ing, Arnold, Rossetti, and others, till the day was 
far spent." The other great feast of the season 
was an all-night dinner with Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 
at which "the literary brain" of London was pres 
ent. As he recalled the event, with an intoxication 
of delight, later in the summer: "These giants of 
thought, champions of the beautiful earth, passed 
the secrets of all time and all lands before me like 
a mighty panorama. . . . If I could remember 
and write down truly and exactly what these men 
said, I would have the best and the greatest book 
that was ever written." 

What he recorded of the conversation is not over- 
poweringly impressive; but from this rather bewil 
dering contact with the pre-Raphaelite group Miller 
departed with a vivid conviction that he, too, was 
above all else a lover of the beautiful, and he car 
ried away a strong impression, which markedly 
affected his next volume of poems, that beauty is 
resident in "alliteration and soft sounds." Perhaps, 
however, the most noteworthy utterance which he 
preserved was his own reply to a question of Ros- 
setti's: 



JOAQUIN MILLER 221 

"Now, what do you call poetry?" and he turned 
his great Italian eyes tenderly to where I sat at his 
side. 

"To me a poem must be a picture," I answered. 

There was more than a drop of bitterness min 
gled in the joy of his English welcome. With the 
cup raised to his lips, he wrote in his diary, "I was 
not permitted to drink." In the midsummer of this 
most triumphal year, he received news that his sister 
had died. He returned to the United States, only 
in time to attend the death-bed of his elder brother 
in Pennsylvania. Re-visiting his parents in Oregon, 
he found his mother in broken health and failing 
mind. Furthermore, the American reception of his 
poems lacked the warmth of the English cordiality. 
The traditional superciliousness of the East towards 
the West and a resentful unwillingness to have this 
uncouth frontiersman accepted abroad as a leading 
or even a significant representative of American 
letters these not altogether unfamiliar notes are 
strident in a review in the New York Nation in 
1871: "It is the 'sombreros' and 'scrapes' and 
'gulches,' we suppose, and the other Californian and 
Arizonian properties, which have caused our Eng 
lish friends to find in Mr. Miller a truly American 
poet. He is Mr. William Rossetti's latest discov 
ery. We trust, however, that we have no monopoly 
of ignorance and presumption and taste for Byron- 
ism. In other climes, also, there have been 
Firmilians, and men need not be born in California 



222 AMERICANS 

to have the will in excess of the understanding 
and the understanding ill-informed. There are 
people of all nationalities whom a pinch more 
brains and a trifle more of diffidence would not 
hurt." 

The chilliness of American literary criticism was 
not all, nor perhaps the worst, that Miller had to 
face on his return to the United States. During his 
absence in Europe, he had been accused at home, 
and not without a basis in fact, of deserting his 
wife. His celebrity as author of Songs of the 
Sierras gave newspaper value to the story. And in 
the fall of 1871, "Minnie Myrtle" made the entire 
subject a topic for editorial comment, both at home 
and abroad, by corroborating the story and then 
proceeding, in the spirit of magnanimity or of irony 
or of publicity, to justify the poet. Early in 1872, 
The Saturday Review summarized Mrs. Miller's 
communication to the American press, and discussed 
it at length, with elaborate comparison of the classi 
cal case of Lord Byron. From this discussion the 
following extract will suffice for our purposes: 

The public, she holds [by her own act belying 
the contention] has nothing to do with Mr. Miller 
except as a poet, and has no right to sit in judgment 
on his conduct as a husband or father; and in the 
next place, poets are different from other people, 
.and their lives must be judged, if at all, by a differ 
ent standard. Mr. Miller, we are informed, "felt 
that he was gifted, and his mind being of a fine, 
poetic structure, and his brain very delicately organ- 



JOAQUIN MILLER 223 

ized, the coarse and practical duties of providing 
for a family, and the annoyance of children, con 
flicted with his dreams and literary whims." It had 
been for years his ambition to go to Europe and 
become famous. Time and money were of course 
necessary to his project, and when he wrote his wife 
that he should be absent for five or six years, and 
that she must not expect to hear from him often, 
she thought it would be better to release him at 
once from domestic obligations. . . . Mrs. Miller 
assures us that she fully sympathized with her hus 
band's projects, and that she believes them to be 
justified by their practical results. "Mr. Miller," 
she says, "felt that he had gifts of the mind, and 
if his system of economy was rigid and hard to 
endure, it was at least a success ; and if he needed 
all his money to carry out his plans, I am satisfied 
that he thus used it. ... As we are both mortals, 
it would be affectation in me were I to profess to 
take upon myself all the blame, but I ask to bear 
my full share. . . . Good sometimes comes of evil. 
. . . Our separation and sorrows produced the 
poems of 'Myrrh' and 'Even So.' ' 

It was at about this point in his career that Miller 
proved the adage about a prophet in his own 
country. 

And now perhaps he did seriously consider hid 
ing his head for a time in Europe hiding it in the 
Byronic fashion. From early in 1872 till 1875 
"Childe" Miller wandered extensively, returning to 
Europe with a wide detour by way of South Amer 
ica and the Near East. From scattered references 
one gathers that he made acquaintance with the 



224 AMERICANS 

Emperor of Brazil, that he went down the Danube 
and up the Nile, saw Athens and Constantinople, 
visited Palestine, and was "in and about the tomb 
of buried empires and forgotten kings." These 
wanderings, impossible to trace in detail, were in 
terrupted and punctuated by considerable periods 
of steady literary work, by visits to England, by a 
sojourn in Italy, and by publications all of which 
can be dated with tolerable accuracy. 

Beside the new edition of Songs of the Sierras, 
he published in 1873 the first reflection of these 
travels in Songs of the Sun-Lands. Of this, a re 
viewer in the Athenaeum said: "Mr. Miller's muse 
in this, its second flight, has taken the same direc 
tion as in its first essay, but, upon the whole, we 
think, with a stronger wing." In the prelude to 
the first long poem in the book, Miller cries with 
fine bravado that "the passionate sun and the reso 
lute sea" have been his masters, "and only these." 
So far as the prosodical qualities of this collection 
are concerned, this announcement is amusing, be 
cause nowhere else in his work does he show himself 
so obviously the "sedulous ape" of his English con 
temporaries. The volume is dedicated to the Ros- 
settis; in "Isles of the Amazons" he is affected by 
the stanza of "In Memoriam" and he also echoes 
Mrs. Browning; in "Sleep That Was Not Sleep" 6 
he attempts the Browningesque dramatic mono- 



5 A revision of "Zanoni" in Joaquin, Et Al. 



JOAQUIN MILLER 225 

logue; remembering the Rossetti dinner of 1871, he 
works on the theory that "a poem must be a pic 
ture," and he is everywhere studious of "alliteration 
and soft sounds" ; finally in the Palestinian sequence 
called "Olive Leaves," the influence of Swinburne 
has quite transformed and disguised the sound of 
his voice : 

With incense and myrrh and sweet spices, 

Frankincense and sacredest oil 
In ivory, chased with devices 

Cut quaint and in serpentine coil; 
Heads bared, and held down to the bosom; 

Brows massive with wisdom and bronzed; 
Beards white as the white may in blossom, 

And borne to the breast and beyond, 
Came the Wise of the East, bending lowly 

On staffs, with their garments girt round 
With girdles of hair, to the Holy 

Child Christ, in their sandals. 

Despite all this mimicry in the manner, the stuff 
in the Songs of the Sun-Lands is, in great measure, 
Miller's own. In "Isles of the Amazons" he con 
ceives himself as a scout of the imagination, a Kit 
Carson of poetry, who has carried his banner from 
Oregon and the Sierras to plant it in South Amer 
ican islands by a mighty unsung river. His hero, 
a singing warrior fleeing from strife to seek a Uto 
pian peace and felicity, is once more a kind of 
self-projection. "From Sea to Sea" is a poetical 
reminiscence of a transcontinental journey by the 
new Pacific Railway. By the Sundown Seas, which 



226 AMERICANS 

he later cut up into its constituent pictures, sings 
the glories of Oregon and the emigrants. In "Olive 
Leaves," his garland from Palestine, he begins a 
peculiarly American reappropriation of Christianity 
and an assimilation of it to his growing humani 
tarian sentiment. And "Fallen Leaves" are for the 
most part memories of the West. So that if he 
does not exhibit any very daring unconventionalities 
in form, he does employ his forms with a good deal 
of flexibility in imaginatively molding the raw stuff 
of American experience. 

In 1873, also, Miller published in France and 
England the most original and the most poetical of 
all his books in prose, and, on the whole, perhaps 
the most interesting book that he ever produced, 
Life Among the Modocs, which circulated in trans 
lations, later editions, and abridgments, pirated or 
otherwise, under various titles as Unwritten His 
tory, Scenes de la Vie des Mineurs et des Indiens de 
California, Paquita, My Own Story, and My Life 
Among the Indians. In 1872 and 1873 the Modoc 
Indians were attracting the attention of the public 
by their stubborn resistance to the government's 
attempt to move them from their old lands to a new 
reservation. In the course of this resistance their 
killing of two peace commissioners naturally excited 
popular indignation. But in Miller, instinctively 
sympathetic with the under dog, the last hopeless 
stand of this warlike tribe, which he had known 
in his boyhood, appealed strongly to the humani- 



JOAQUIN MILLER 227 

tarian sentiment, stirred up old memories, and 
aroused the imagination. He had, as we have seen, 
in at least one of his "campaigns," fought against 
them; but now, as a poet and Utopian, he is all 
on their side, he embraces their cause, he speaks 
from their point of view, he makes himself one of 
them. 

In the introduction to the Bear Edition, he gives 
this brief account of the origin of the book: "Hav 
ing met the Prince, on a visit from Nicaragua at 
the time, he helped me to recall our life among the 
Modocs, adding such romance of his own as he 
chose." Elsewhere he acknowledges the collabora 
tion of Prentice Mulford. How much is due to the 
influence of these collaborators one cannot say, but 
there is a continuity of narrative and dramatic and 
idyllic interest in the tale unequalled in Miller's 
other prose fiction. The authors enter with genu 
ine enthusiasm into the exhibition of the white man's 
inhumanity, the virtues of the "noble savage," the 
chivalry of the Prince, the heroic fidelity of Paquita, 
the yellow-haired poetic renegade and his dusky 
bride, and the romantic and melancholy charm of 
life on the forested slopes of Mt. Shasta. There 
is a wavering thread of autobiographical fact run 
ning through the romance, 'but the romance is here 
far more significant than the thread of fact; all 
that Miller, as a poetic dreamer, longed to have 
been, all that he could not be, inextricably fused with 
what he was, is here projected, beautifully, by his 



228 AMERICANS 

imagination. He so long encouraged the acceptance 
of the book as "history" that perhaps in his later 
years he actually lost the ability, never notable in 
him, to distinguish what he had done from what 
he had dreamed. In 1874 this book, with the title 
Unwritten History: Life Amongst the Modocs, was 
brought out in a subscription edition by the Amer 
ican Publishing Company, and in the advertising 
pages of this edition is third in a list beginning with 
Mark Twain's The Gilded Age and Josh Billings's 
Everybody's Friend. This will suggest to those who 
remember the American Publishing Company the 
sort and size of the audience that Miller was ad 
dressing in the middle 'seventies. 

In Memorie and Rime, Miller says that he re 
turned to London in November, 1874, from his long 
wanderings in Europe. Apparently, however, he 
had returned to England in the preceding year, per 
haps partly to enjoy the reclame of his two new 
books. In 1873, at any rate, he made his acquaint 
ance with that poet and patron of the arts and 
great organizer of literary breakfasts, Lord Hough- 
ton. In Reid's Life of Lord Houghton little record 
remains of this friendship, except a letter of August 
5, 1873, addressed to Gladstone, in which Miller is 
commended as "most interesting as poet and man; 
I have known and asked nothing as to his private 
life." Augustus Hare (The Story of My Life, vol. 
iv) makes a supercilious reference to the poet's 
appearance at one of these breakfasts: "Joaquin 



JOAQUIN MILLER 229 

Miller would have been thought insufferably vulgar 
if he had not been a notoriety: as it was, everyone 
paid court to him." But various letters and refer 
ences in Traubel's With Walt Whitman in Camden 
show that Miller returned Lord Houghton's cour 
tesies in America, in 1875, and attempted to bring 
about a meeting between his English friend and 
Whitman. Furthermore, Miller speaks of travel 
ing with Lord Houghton in Greece; and in a note 
of the Bear Edition he gives interesting hints at the 
sort of figure that he himself made in English 
country life: 

Born to the saddle and bred by a chain of events 
to ride with the wind until I met the stolid riders 
of England, I can now see how it was that Anthony 
Trollope, Lord Houghton and others of the saddle 
and "meet" gave me ready place in their midst. . . . 
In all our hard riding I never had a scratch. One 
morning Trollope hinted that my immunity was due 
to my big Spanish saddle, which I had brought from 
Mexico City. I threw my saddle on the grass and 
rode without so much as a blanket. And I rode 
neck to neck; and then left them all behind and 
nearly every one unhorsed. Prince Napoleon was 
of the party that morning; and as the gentlemen 
pulled themselves together on the return he kept by 
my side, and finally proposed a tour through Notts 
and Sherwood Forest on horseback. And so it fell 
out that we rode together much. 

With so much cordiality manifesting itself abroad 
and so little at home, it is not strange that Miller, 



230 AMERICANS 

after this second visit to England, should have en 
tertained for a time the notion of fixing his residence 
in a foreign land. It behooved him, furthermore, 
as a faithful follower of Lord Byron, to dwell in 
Italy. He says, with customary indefiniteness as to 
dates, that, in the footsteps of his hero, he "lived 
long enough at Genoa to find that his life there, 
along with the Shelleys, was simple, sincere, and 
clean. From Genoa I went to Florence, as the guest 
of our Consul General, Lorimer Graham. I wanted 
to live with Mr. Graham because he and his most 
amiable lady lived in the house occupied by Byron 
and the Shelleys, when they made their home in 
Florence. At Venice, under the guidance of Brown 
ing, who had left Florence to live in this latter place, 
after the death of his gifted wife, I found only the 
same story of industry, sobriety and devotion to 
art." Charles Warren Stoddard gives a glimpse of 
Miller's secretive life in Rome, picturing him driv 
ing out with the "Pink Countess," and declares that 
Miller's Italian novel, The One Fair Woman, 1876, 
with its epigraphs from Byron, Browning, Swin 
burne, and Hay, "embodies" much of Miller's Ro 
man life, and is "one of the truest tales he ever 
told." Additional light on this period is thrown by 
Songs of Italy, 1878, a collection manifestly pro 
duced under the influence of Browning. The Ship 
in the Desert, published in book form in 1875, is 
preceded by an eloquent prose inscription to his 
parents, dated August, 1874, at Lake Como. At 



JOAQUIN MILLER 231 

about this time, Miller bought some land near 
Naples and, in company with an English poet, medi 
tated settling there; but malarial fever attacked 
them both, his friend died, and the Italian chapter 
of his life was ended. 

In November, 1875, Miller dated at Chicago an 
introductory allegorical poem, prefixed to Mary 
Murdock Mason's little Italian novel, Mae Mad 
den, published in 1876. In the course of the next 
decade he roved widely, as was his wont, but this is, 
in general, the period of his experiments at living 
in eastern cities, including Boston, New York, and 
Washington, where he built himself a log cabin, 
and, in his frontier costume, became the picturesque 
publicity man for the "Western school." Bret 
Harte and Mark Twain, now at the height of their 
production, were creating a lively demand for the 
tales of the pioneers; and Miller perhaps perceived 
that if he was to have his due profit of the popular 
interest he must renounce his Italian and Oriental 
inclinations and return to his native fields. In 1876, 
at any rate, he published First Families of the 
Sierras, a prose tale of the Forty-Niners, marked 
by that chivalric sentiment for women and by that 
idealization of the noble men in red shirts, which 
are distinctive "notes" of this literary movement. 
In The Baroness of New York, 1877, a long ro 
mantic medley in verse, he dismally failed in his at 
tempt to extend the adventures of his western 
heroine into the society of the metropolis. A 



232 AMERICANS 

presentation copy of this book, now in the posses 
sion of the University of Chicago, bears the au 
thor's own veracious comment that it "isn't worth 
a damn." Though he salvaged a portion of it in 
"The Sea of Fire," the original title disappeared 
from his collective edition. Soon after his return 
to America, he began to be visited by dramatic aspi 
rations; and in 1881 he achieved considerable suc 
cess with The Danites in the Sierras. The three 
other plays which he preserved Forty-Nine, Tally- 
Ho, and An Oregon Idyl are like The Danites in 
presenting incidents in the story of the frontier. In 
1881, he published also The Shadows of Shasta, a 
prose tale anticipating Helen Hunt Jackson's Ra- 
mona in indignation at our treatment of the Indians. 
In 1884 falls the interesting but very fragmentary 
autobiographical miscellany called Memorie and 
Rime. With The Destruction of Gotham, 1886, a 
sensational novel of class-conflict in New York City, 
Miller somewhat significantly terminated his search 
for fortune and glory in the Eastern states. 

He had been a sentimental pilgrim in England, a 
poetic refugee in Italy, and a picturesque visitor 
an ambassador from the Sierras even in New 
York and Washington. Though he had enjoyed 
playing all these parts, perhaps by 1886 he felt that 
he and his public were beginning to lose their zest 
for one another. Furthermore he had now married 
again and at least entertained the thought of settling 
down. The loss of considerable money in Wall 



JOAQUIN MILLER 233 

Street speculations had shaken his faith in "capital 
istic society" and had weakened the Babylonian at 
tractions of metropolitan life. He remembered the 
mountains and the seas of the West. He remem 
bered also Sir Walter Scott's castle and estate at 
Abbotsford as a general model of the fashion in 
which a great poet should live. Mingled with these 
memories, in the background of his mind there was 
a curious accumulation of Utopian and Arcadian 
dreams which from his boyhood he had vaguely 
desired to realize. And so at last the prophet 
returned to his own country, and, entering upon a 
tract of land upon the hills looking over Oakland 
to San Francisco Bay, he built there a little wooden 
house for his wife, which he called The Abbey (com 
memorating at once her name and Dryburgh and 
Newstead Abbeys), a second cottage for his old 
mother, a "bower" for his daughter, and a little 
guest-house for whatever visitor, white, black, or 
yellow, cared to occupy it. There, too, he planted 
thousands of trees in the shape of a gigantic cross, 
and beneath them on the crest of the hill he built 
for himself a funeral pyre of the rough cobble, and 
he erected three monuments of stone to three 
heroes: General Fremont, Robert Browning, and 
Moses. 

Miller says that his choice of this retreat on the 
hills was determined by the relative cheapness of 
the land; but he was not a practical man, and he 
must soon have forgotten this practical considera- 



234 AMERICANS 

tion in the more characteristic reflection that The 
Hights was just the right setting for a man like 
him. His primary purpose there was not to follow 
any gainful occupation, but to live as all poetic 
Utopians have held that a man should live, toiling 
a couple of hours each day at honest labor of the 
hands and devoting the rest of life to love, friend 
ship, art, and preaching the gospel of beauty. The 
literary expression of his dream appears in The 
Building of the City Beautiful, 1893, a Utopian ro 
mance obviously related to the writings of Ruskin 
and William- Morris, but apparently inspired di 
rectly by Miller's conversations with a Jewish radi 
cal in Palestine. He had it in mind also to gather 
around him like-minded workers and friends, who 
should give to the world below them an illustration 
of the felicity in store for humanity when the base 
passions which now govern society are eradicated. 
Several young poets and artists came to him and 
tarried for a time in his guest-house, moved by curi 
osity or the hopes of youth among them several 
Japanese, including Yone Noguchi. And students 
from the University in Berkeley and travellers from 
remoter places made little pilgrimages up into the 
hills to visit this romantically costumed poet and 
seer who had fought with Indians and now preached 
universal peace. To his disciples and lovers he lec 
tured in a somewhat oracular tone on the laws of 
the new American poetry, on the conduct of life, and 



JOAQUIN MILLER 235 

on the new religious spirit which is to embrace all 
mankind. 

Miller's visitors did not always, however, find 
him preaching peace. His pacificism, like the popu 
lar American variety, was tempered by hatred of 
oppression and readiness to fight "on the side of 
the Lord." He accepted the "idealistic" interpre 
tation of the Spanish-American War, and chanted 
lustily his encouragement of the struggle to free the 
Cubans from the tyranny of Spain. On the other 
hand, in his Chants for the Boer, 1900, he pro 
tested indignantly against the British imperial policy 
in South Africa ; and his strong pro-English sympa 
thies give a certain moral quality to his indignation. 
"Find here," he cries, "not one ill word for brave 
old England; my first, best friends were English. 
But for her policy, her politicians, her speculators, 
what man with a heart in him can but hate and 
abhor these? England's best friends to-day are 
those who deplore this assault on the farmer Boers, 
so like ourselves a century back." 

There was an interesting element of inconsistency 
between the popular American humanitarianism 
which Miller had gradually adopted as his religion 
and his strongest poetical impulses, which were ad 
venturous and imperialistic. In these later years 
the fire of his fighting youth slumbered in the veins 
of the white-bearded seer, but it was never extin 
guished, and, every now and then, it flashed out. 
In such seasons pilgrims to The Hights found that 



236 AMERICANS 

he was not at home. He was a restless soul like 
most Utopists, ill adapted to the permanency of a 
Paradise. There was, moreover, a steadily disquiet 
ing feature in the prospect from his hills. At his 
feet, the great ships rode at anchor. But before 
his eyes daily they lifted anchor and spread their 
wings and sailed away, out through the shining 
Golden Gate into the Pacific, and disappeared on 
pathless ways over the rim of the world. For him, 
even at the age of sixty, the attraction of unknown 
places was magical. He followed "the gleam" to 
the islands of the South Seas, to Japan, to Alaska. 
In 1897-8 he was correspondent of the New York 
Journal in the Klondike. Trying to pass from the 
Klondike to the Bering Sea by way of the Yukon, 
he finds the river closed at the edge of the Arctic 
Circle. "It was nearly two thousand miles to the 
sea, all ice and snow, with not so much as a dog- 
track before me and only midnight round about me. 
There was nothing to do but to try to get back 
to my cabin on the Klondike. In the line of my 
employment I kept a journal of the solitary seventy- 
two days and nights mostly night spent in the 
silent and terrible ascent of the savage sea of ice." 
The imaginative harvest of these later adventures 
was first gathered up in As It Was in the Beginning, 
1903, a curious poetical fantasy, oddly brought 
forth in San Francisco in pamphlet form with a 
cover decorated by a figure of a stork bearing in his 
bill the infant Roosevelt in spectacles. In 1907, 



JOAQUIN MILLER 237 

worked over and shorn of its more grotesque fea 
tures, the poem reappeared in dignified form as 
Light, with the interesting prefatory avowal: "My 
aspiration is and ever has been, in my dim and un 
certain way, to be a sort of Columbus or Cortez." 
(In the collective edition the title is changed once 
more to A Song of Creation.) 

When Miller finally reviewed his own work and 
prepared his collective edition, he saw that much 
of his verse had been hastily written, journalistic, 
prolix, lacking in form and concentration; and he 
manfully discarded many long passages of it. At 
the same time, he felt as never before the impor 
tance of his own position in American poetry. He 
had not really achieved a distinctive poetical style. 
He had not been a thinker. He had been a path 
finder of the imagination; like Whitman, he had 
blazed a way into new territories. He had brought 
something of undiscovered beauty and splendor into 
American literature. He exulted in the wide lands 
and seas which he first had annexed to the provinces 
of song. He had sung the exodus across the plains. 
He had pictured the great American desert. He 
had celebrated the forested heights of the Sierras, 
the giant trees of the Mariposa Grove, and the falls 
of the Yosemite. He had been a myth-maker and 
had sown with poetic legends all his western land 
from the snowy peaks of Mt. Rainier and Mt. 
Shasta through the golden poppy fields of the cen 
tral valleys to San Diego Bay, Nicaragua, and the 



238 AMERICANS 

Amazon River. He had made captive for romance 
the outlaws of old Spanish California, the priests 
and bandits of Mexico, the scouts of Fremont, 
dusky Indian heroines, and the motley multitude of 
the gold-seekers. He had been the champion of 
oppressed peoples the Southern Confederacy, the 
native American tribes, the Jews of Russia and 
Palestine, the Cubans, the Boers, the yellow men 
and the Mexicans in California. And then, to widen 
his horizon at sunset, he had threaded the golden 
straits and had sailed "on and on" to the Arctic 
Seas, to Hawaii, to the Orient, chanting as he 
sailed, every ready for fresh adventure, ever in love 
with light, color, and movement, ever himself the 
romantic troubadour, the picturesque incarnation of 
the spirit which pervades his poems. 



CHAPTER VIII 
A NOTE ON CARL SANDBURG 

Many of the things which Carl Sandburg relishes 
I relish: the jingle of the "American language" in 
the making; the Great Lakes, prairies, mountains, 
and the diurnal and seasonal scene-shifting of the 
elements; all kinds of workmen with their tools in 
city and country, and the "feel" of an axe or shovel 
in my own hands ; the thunder of overland trains and 
the cross-fire of banter in a barber shop; eating 
ham-and-eggs with a Chinese chemist at a wayside 
lunch-counter at four o'clock in the morning, sun- 
time; the mixed human contacts to be had, for ex 
ample, in a "common" up-country smoker, where 
black men, Italians, Poles, Swedes, Japanese, In 
dians, and Germans commune happily in a thick blue 
mist, and a fluent young travelling man "making" 
the resort towns drops into the seat beside me and 
asks what "line" I am carrying, and I exchange 
matches and crackers with a Dutchman from Java 
in blue overalls moving from the sugar-beet fields 
of Wisconsin to the raspberry district of Michigan, 
accounting spontaneously for the "yoost" and the 

239 



240 AMERICANS 

"yob" in his vocabulary by his long contact with 
the North Germanic people. 

All these things I relish and am familiar with; 
and yet, as I study my fourth volume of Mr. Sand 
burg's poems, I wonder why Mr. Untermeyer and 
the other fugelmen of the "movement" congratu 
late the public on the ease with which they may 
read and enjoy poetry, now that classical allusions 
and the traditional poetic diction have been ban 
ished. It is a sham and a delusion. Mr. Sandburg 
is not easy to read. He is as difficult in his own 
fashion as John Donne or Browning. If any of the 
men in my common smoker should glance over my 
shoulder at the pages before me, they would 
see abundance of familiar words: "taxi-drivers," 
"window-washers," "booze-runners," hat-cleaners," 
"delicatessen clerks." Perhaps also "shovel-stiffs," 
"work-plugs," "hoosegow," and "exhausted egg 
heads" would be familiar to them. But I think 
they would gasp and stare at "sneaking scar-faced 
Nemesis," "miasmic" women, and "macabre" 
moons. I think they would meditate a long while 
before they felt any emotion whatever in the pres 
ence of such word patterns as: 

Pearl memories in the mist circling the horizon, 
Flick me, sting me, hold me even and smooth. 

And I believe they might read the long title-poem, 
"Slabs of the Sunburnt West," twenty times with 
out suspecting for a moment that it is a meditation 



CARL SANDBURG 241 

on God, civilization, and immortality, conceived on 
the brink of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado. 

Now, the considerable obscurity in Mr. Sand 
burg's work may be accounted for in two ways. 

In the first place, his literary allegiance is mixed. 
When in his interesting poem on "The Windy City" 
he begins a lucid paragraph thus: "Mention proud 
things, catalogue them" he is writing under the 
formative influence of Whitman; and both his lan 
guage and his emotion are straightforward and sin 
cere. But in "Fins," for example, and in "Pearl 
Horizons," where he asks the "pearl memories" to 
flick him and hold him even and smooth, he is writ 
ing under the deformative influence of the most 
artificial phase of Imagism; and both his language 
and his emotion are tortured and insincere. 

In the second place, Mr. Sandburg thinks that he 
is really sympathetic with the "working classes" and 
with the unloved and not altogether lovely portion 
of humanity which Mr. Masefield has sung as "the 
scum of the earth" ; and he imagines that he is pretty 
much out of sympathy with "the great ones of the 
earth" and with all those who speak complacently 
of "the established order." Robert Burns sympa 
thized with the Scotch peasant and wrote of him 
and for him, incidentally pleasing the rest of man 
kind. The late James Whitcomb Riley sympathized 
with the farmer's boy and wrote of him and for 
him; and as there were a great many farmers' boys 
in the land, he pleased a wide audience. But Mr. 



242 AMERICANS 

Sandburg, who sympathizes with the taxi-drivers 
and delicatessen clerks, does not write for them; he 
writes for the literary smart set, for the readers of 
The Freeman, The Liberator, The Dial, Fanity 
Fair, etc. 

As a consequence of his confronting this audi 
ence, Mr. Sandburg appears to me to lack somewhat 
the courage of his sympathies. He seldom indi 
vidualizes his working-man; almost never does the 
imaginative work of penetrating the consciousness 
of any definite individual and telling his story co 
herently with the concrete emotion belonging to it. 
Instead, he presents a rather vague lyrical sense of 
the surge of but slightly differentiated "masses" ; 
he gives, as the newspaper does, a collection of acci 
dents to undifferentiated children; he is the voice 
of the abstract city rather than of the citizen. He 
chants of dreams, violences, toils, cruelties, and 
despairs. In his long poem, "And So To-day," 
commemorating the burial of the Unknown Soldier, 
he finds, however, an appointed theme; he is in the 
presence of an almost abstract fate, which he ren 
ders piteously concrete by a curious parody of Whit 
man's threnody on Lincoln in a language of vulgar 
brutality a language reflecting, it is to be sup 
posed, the vulgarity and brutality of the civilization 
for which the Unknown Soldier died, as Mr. Sand 
burg bitterly suggests, in vain. In the short ironical 
piece, "At the Gate of the Tombs," adopting once 
more the most biting lingo of the mob, he expresses 



CARL SANDBURG 243 

powerfully the attitude, let us say, of The New 
Republic towards the government's treatment of 
political prisoners and conscientious objectors 
"gag 'em, lock 'em up, get 'em bumped off." 

Radical journals, like The Nation and The New 
Republic, radical journalists like Mr. Upton Sin 
clair, and radical poets like Mr. Sandburg, create 
for themselves purely artistic problems of very great 
difficulty, of which they do not always find triumph 
ant solutions. When, for instance, Mr. Sinclair 
presents the entire American press, the churches, 
and the universities as bought, corrupt conspirators 
against truth, he creates for himself the pretty prob 
lem of showing where truth lodges : it is an artistic 
necessity till he has shown that, his great picture 
of iniquity seems incredible, illusory. When Mr. 
Sandburg, in his poem, "And So To-day," presents 
the official pageant of mourning for the Unknown 
Soldier as a farcical mummery; the President, the 
commanding officers, the "honorable orators, but 
toning their prinz alberts," as empty puppets; and 
the people from sea to sea as stopping for a moment 
in their business "with a silence of eggs laid in a 
row on a pantry shelf" when Mr. Sandburg pre 
sents a great symbolic act of the nation as vacuous 
and meaningless, he creates for himself the pretty 
problem of showing where the meaning of the na 
tion lies: till he has shown that, and with at least 
equal earnestness and power, he is in danger. He 
is in grave danger of leaving his readers with a sense 



244 AMERICANS 

either that his conception of the nation is illusory 
or that both he and they inhabit a world of illusions 
a world of dreams, violences, toils, cruelties, and 
despairs, in which nothing really matters, after all. 
Mr. Sandburg is not completely unconscious of 
the problem which he has created. To take a simi 
lar case, even Mr. Oswald Garrison Villard, a man 
who habitually insists upon the hopeless condition 
of the Republic and the brainlessness and heartless- 
ness of all our public men even Mr. Villard, in 
sensitive as he is to the "antique symmetry," is 
apparently not completely unconscious of the prob 
lem which he has created. At least once or twice 
every year Mr. Villard drops the muck-rake with 
which he harries Washington, and writes an edi 
torial in behalf of the New Testament and the 
character of Christ, as if to prove to his anxious 
readers that he really has a definite standard in 
mind for the administration of the War Depart 
ment. Mr. Sandburg does likewise. When he has 
me all but persuaded that he himself is at heart a 
barbarian, that he feels a deep and genuine gusto 
in violence and brutality, that his talk about building 
a "city beautiful" is for the consumption of ladies 
who actually bore him, that in fact he chafes at the 
slight discipline which our civilization as yet im 
poses, and that we are all callous "galoots" and may 
as well acknowledge it and act accordingly then he 
brings me to a pause by his sympathy for the "insig 
nificant" private life, by the choking pathos of his 



CARL SANDBURG 245 

epigram on "the boy nobody knows the name of"; 
then he stuns me by enjoining himself, with a studi 
ous nonchalance, to 

Write on a pocket pad what a pauper said 

To a patch of purple asters at a whitewashed wall: 

"Let every man be his own Jesus that's enough." 



IX 
ANDREW CARNEGIE 

Andrew Carnegie's countrymen felt in his life 
time that $350,000,000 worth of power over them 
was more than any man ought to hold. Accord 
ingly, except when they were asking him to found 
a library or to endow a college, they did what they 
could to keep him humble and to persuade him that 
no one envied him and that no one would bow an 
inch lower to him out of reverence for his fabulous 
wealth. This was no doubt sound democratic dis 
cipline. He himself must have applauded the spirit 
of it. "It was long," he says in commenting on his 
own radically democratic upbringing, "before I 
could trust myself to speak respectfully of any 
privileged class or person who had not distinguished 
himself in some good way and therefore earned the 
right to public respect." But he knew all the time, 
and his countrymen knew at heart, that adding up 
his stocks and bonds would not summarize his tal 
ents and virtues. His gifts made him appear the 
most magnificent philanthropist that the world had 
ever seen. And by qualities which remained with 
him after he had distributed his fortune, he was one 

246 



ANDREW CARNEGIE 247 

of the most original, interesting, and representative 
men of his generation. 

The Iron Master possessed intelligence of the 
first rank in its kind, an open and free spirit coupled 
with extraordinary firmness of character, indefati 
gable energy and initiative and a "creative" benevo 
lence, together with abundant humor, poetic senti 
ment, and deep feeling with regard to the things 
that matter. Hs was, in short, a personality. He 
appreciated, furthermore, the significant and pic 
turesque aspects of his own career and savored its 
contrasts like a man of letters. When in his old 
age, at his retreat on the Scotch moors, he under 
took at the insistence of his friends to compose his 
memoirs, he had the material, the perspective, and 
the mood for a book fit to stand on the shelf by 
Franklin's. Following his own precept and Frank 
lin's example, he wrote out his recollections simply, 
modestly, blithely, like an old gentleman with a 
good conscience telling the story of his life to his 
friends and relatives. 

The war diverted him from his work before the 
manuscript was in shape for publication. He wrote 
on the margin : "Whoever arranges these notes 
should be careful not to burden the public with too 
much. A man with a heart as well as a head should 
be chosen." Professor John C. Van Dyke was se 
lected as an editor possessing both these qualifica 
tions. His task, which he says was little more than 
to arrange the matter in chronological sequence, he 



248 AMERICANS 

has performed unobtrusively just a shade too un 
obtrusively. Carnegie had far more than the ordi 
nary manufacturer's respect for literature, and he 
clearly hoped that his autobiography would be con 
sidered, in the stricter sense, as "literature." It 
contains, however, more instances of the "dangling 
participle" than perhaps ever before appeared in a 
single volume. There should be nothing sacred, to 
one charged with the editing of an unfinished manu 
script, about Mr. Carnegie's dangling participles. 
Before the book goes into its second edition, these 
and such like easily corrigible slips should be silently 
amended. Then the really charming spirit which 
pervades it I do not recall a harsh or ill-natured 
word from the beginning to the end of it should 
make it a place in the best company, where it 
belongs. 

Andrew Carnegie was born in 1835 at Dunferm- 
line, Scotland, son of a damask weaver who was 
ruined by the introduction of steam looms, and who 
in 1848 borrowed twenty pounds to bring his family 
to America, where "Andy" made his "start in life" 
at the age of thirteen as a bobbin boy in a cotton 
factory at a dollar and twenty cents a week. A 
second-rate "self-made man" might have attributed 
his success to the change of environment and to his 
own industry. It is a characteristic and attractive 
trait in Carnegie, creditable to both his heart and 
his head, that he recognizes and handsomely ac 
knowledges his obligations not merely to his em- 



ANDREW CARNEGIE 249 

plovers and employees and partners, but to a multi 
tude of benign forces cooperating in his success. 

Though he had, for example, but a few years of 
common schooling, he makes it beautifully clear that 
he received from various directions the incentives 
of an excellent education. He declares that he was 
fortunate in his ancestors and supremely fortunate 
in his birthplace. He is proud of a grandfather on 
one side who was familiarly known as "the profes 
sor," of a grandfather on the other side who was a 
friend of Cobbett, of an uncle who went to jail to 
vindicate the right of public assembly, of a father 
who was one of five weavers that founded the first 
library in Dunfermline, and of a mother capable 
of binding shoes to help support the family, in her 
morality an unconscious follower of Confucius, in 
her religion consciously a disciple of Channing. As 
for the town, it had the reputation of being the 
most radical in the kingdom: the stimulus of politi 
cal and philosophic ideas was in the air; the edi 
torials of the London Times were read from the 
pulpit; "the names of Hume, Cobden, and Bright 
were upon everyone's tongue." Dunfermline was 
radical, but with a radicalism nourished on history 
and inclined to hero-worship; for, in the midst of 
her, Abbey and ruined tower fired the young heart 
with remembrance of King Malcom and Wallace 
and Bruce. "It is a tower of strength for a boy," 
says the old man, "to have a hero." The thought 
of Wallace made him face whatever he was afraid 



250 AMERICANS 

of, and remained "a real force in his life to the 
very end." 

When the Carnegie family settled in America, 
their capital was brains, pluck, honesty, willingness 
to work, and loyalty to one another. The early 
stages in their pecuniary progress were marked first 
by payment of their debts, then by purchase of their 
first little house, and later by their first investment, 
in five shares of the Adams Express Company. 
"Andy" did not long remain a telegraph messenger, 
because he promptly developed his faculty for doing 
"something beyond the sphere of his duties," which 
attracted the attention of those over him. He 
picked up telegraphy while waiting for messages; 
he learned to receive by ear while others used the 
paper slip; he mastered the duties of a train- 
dispatching superintendent of division while send 
ing the messages of his superior. When his chief's 
arrival at the office was delayed one morning and 
the division was in confusion, he assumed responsi 
bility and sent out the orders in the superintendent's 
name, saying to himself "death or Westminster 
Abbey." The union of special knowledge with 
courage, which made "the little white-haired Scotch 
devil" a first-rate assistant at the age of eighteen, 
promoted him in six years to the superintendency 
of the Pittsburgh Division. "I was only twenty- 
four years old," he says, "but my model then was 
Lord John Russell." Two years later he was as 
sistant director of telegraphs and military railroads 



ANDREW CARNEGIE 251 

for the government. After the Civil War, by swift 
combinations of his forces and rapid marches into 
new fields he established his position at the centre 
of the industries on which the internal development 
of the country most directly depended. At the age 
of thirty-three, he had an annual income of fifty 
thousand dollars; its subsequent expansion there is 
not space to recite. 

That the son of an impecunious weaver should, 
while acting as telegraph operator in Pennsylvania, 
have taken Lord John Russell as his model strikes 
one as astonishing till one studies the portrait of 
this young man at sixteen. The bearing and the 
features the full brow, the clear penetrating eyes, 
the firm but sensitive mouth, are those of a well- 
bred, even of a high-bred youth, quite the stuff, one 
should say, to develop into a Lord Rector of St. 
Andrews University, laird of Skibo Castle, and con 
spirator with Lords Morley and Bryce and Grey 
for the world's welfare. The record of his early 
life bears out the impression given by the photo 
graph. It shows a boy grounded by family disci 
pline in self-respect, moral purity, and intellectual 
ambition. It indicates that the wide beneficence of 
his later years was not the mere after thought and 
diversion of a satiated money-getter, but the object 
towards which his efforts tended from the start. 

As a messenger boy he v/as reading Macaulay, 
Bancroft, and Shakespeare, and was learning the 
oratorios of Handel. His first note to the press, 



252 AMERICANS 

written at the same period, was a plea to have a 
certain small library opened to working boys of his 
class. The 7,689 organs that he afterwards gave 
to churches and the 2,800 libraries that he founded 
were his acknowledgment to society for the impulse 
it had given him. He had worshipped a popular 
hero, Wallace, from the Dunf ermline days ; and the 
hero funds that he established throughout the world 
were tokens of his lifelong hero-worship. By the 
school of thought in which he was nourished, war 
among civilized nations was reckoned an obsolescent 
and absurd instrument of statecraft; his Palace of 
Peace commemorated the aspirations of a genuine 
friend of all the people. 

In 1868 he had made a memorandum, indicating 
it as his intention to retire in two years and to 
"settle in Oxford and get a thorough education" 
and then to "take part in public affairs, especially 
those connected with education and improvement 
of the lower classes." Like another famous man of 
our time, he discovered that it is not easy for a 
leader in the fullness of his power to retire "he 
had come to the ring and now he must hop." But 
he continued his education and his educating, when 
he could, by reading Plato, Confucius, and Buddha, 
by travelling in various lands, and by earnestly 
advising and taking the advice of philosophers, 
presidents, kaisers, prime ministers, secretaries of 
state, and other experts. He acknowledged the 
impulse to intellectual growth that society had given 



ANDREW CARNEGIE 253 

him by gifts of buildings or endowment funds to 
five hundred educational institutions at home and 
abroad and by his great central foundation with its 
liberal charter for "the advancement and diffusion 
of knowledge and understanding among the people 
of the United States." 

Some of us criticized him because he did not give 
away his three hundred and fifty millions stealthily 
and secretly, as we slip a quarter into the collection 
box, God alone being aware of our munificence. But 
he knew that one of the most important of his bene 
factions was precisely the publicity with which he 
restored his vast accumulations to the people and 
put them at the service of the upward-striving mem 
bers of society. It was for him to declare conspicu 
ously and with magnificent and unmistakable em 
phasis what money is good for; to promote science 
and literature and music and peace and heroism. He 
owed the friendship, he tells us, of Earl Grey, who 
later became a trustee of the ten-million-dollar fund 
for the United Kingdom, to the publication in the 
Times of these sentences from his instructions to 
the trustees of his gifts to Dunfermline : 

To bring into the monotonous lives cf the toiling 
masses of Dunfermline more "of sweetness and 
light," to give them especially the young some 
charm, some happiness, some elevating conditions 
of life which residence elsewhere would have denied, 
that the child of my native town, looking back in 
after years, however far from home it may have 



254 AMERICANS 

roamed, will feel that simply by virtue of being 
such, life has been made happier and better. If this 
be the fruit of your labors, you will have succeeded; 
if not, you will have failed. 

Large-scale beneficence doing good to towns 
and entire classes of society and nations estab 
lishes one as a member of a privileged order, which 
the average man regards with a certain uneasy 
envy. If Carnegie had not taken from us that 
$350,000,000 we might all and each have had the 
credit of contributing to the purchase of those 
organs, the foundation of those libraries, the estab 
lishment of those hero funds, the building of that 
Palace of Peace, the pensioning of those employees, 
the endowment of those universities, that great 
fund for the advancement of knowledge. True, we 
might have contributed. We might have taxed our 
selves at that rate. We might have made similar 
investments in human progress. But we know pretty 
well that we wouldn't have done so. After we had 
taxed ourselves for the necessary upkeep and ex 
pansion of our army and navy, we should have felt 
too poor, even had steel sold for some dollars a 
ton less, we should still have felt too poor to bear 
an additional tax for such remote objects as the 
promotion of heroism or science. We should have 
felt that we owed it to ourselves and to our fami 
lies to apportion our little "surplus" to our tobacco 
funds and our soft-drink funds for the tranquillizing 
of our nerves and the alleviation of our thirst, or 



ANDREW CARNEGIE 255 

perhaps, if we were a notch above such sensual 
indulgence, to our fund for the collection of can 
celled postage stamps. 

In the age of individualism which produced An 
drew Carnegie, society had scarcely begun to "tap 
the resources" of collective effort for any genuine 
amelioration of common conditions. The people 
"perished" because they had no vision of powers 
united. In this present hour, clamoring for a high 
leadership which fails to appear, we average men 
may look back a little regretfully at our Carnegies, 
shrewd and level-headed in their means but whole 
heartedly and aspiringly democratic in their ends, 
being fain to confess, we average men, that it is the 
pressure of the "hero's" exaction, the spur of high 
example, a vision not our own, a power not our 
selves, that we must depend upon, if we are ever, 
in Pindar's great phrase, "to become what we are." 



X 



ROOSEVELT AND THE NATIONAL 
PSYCHOLOGY 



Mr.Roosevelt's great and fascinating personality 
is part of the national wealth, and it should, so far 
as possible, be preserved undiminished. Since his 
death those who have spoken of him have observed 
somewhat too sedulously the questionable maxim, 
De mortuis nlhll nisi bonum. To say nothing but 
good of a great man is generally fatal alike to 
biographical vivacity and to truth. In this case 
it is a serious detraction from that versatile and in 
exhaustible energy which Lord Morley admired 
when he declared that the two most extraordinary 
works of nature in America were Niagara Falls 
and the President in the White House. "He made," 
says William Hard with the intensity of one catch 
ing breath after the close passage of a thunderbolt, 
"he made Theodore Roosevelt the most interesting 
thing in the world," and he made "the world itself 
momentarily immortally interesting." That touches 
the heart of the matter : it explains comprehensively 

256 



ROOSEVELT 257 

why his friends loved and his enemies admired him. 
It leaves him with his aggressive definiteness, his 
color, and his tang. Mr. Roosevelt, as he proudly 
insisted and as he admirably painted himself in 
many a capital chapter of his Rough Riders and 
his hunting and exploring books, was stained with 
the blood and sweat and dust of conflict. No 
image presents him whole that lacks a dash of the 
recklessness which appears in Frederick Macmon- 
nies' vaulting trooper and a touch of the ruthless- 
ness hinted by the fiercely clenched fist in a well- 
known photograph of him pacing the deck of the 
flagship with "Fighting Bob" Evans. He lived 
and died fighting, and he gave a thousand proofs 
that the keenest joy he knew was the joy of battle. 
No memorial so little preserves him as a white 
washed plaster bust. Better than all the eulogies 
pronounced in public places I suspect he would have 
relished the tribute paid to him in private conver 
sation by one of our distinguished visitors from 
abroad. "It may be," he said, "that Mr. Wilson 
possesses all the virtues in the calendar; but for my 
part I had rather go to hell with Theodore Roose 
velt." Mr. Wilson, he implied, might get off in 
a corner somewhere with Saint Peter and Colonel 
House, and arrange something of the highest im 
portance to the heavenly host; but all the cherubim 
and seraphim of healthy curiosity would be leaning 
over the impassable gulf to see what Mr. Roose 
velt would do next. 



258 AMERICANS 

It is because such notes as these recall the most 
interesting man of our times, "the great Achilles 
whom we knew," that I have heard and read with 
a certain languor the conventional tributes evoked 
by his death, and, more recently, have gone through 
the posthumous biographies without entire satis 
faction. Excepting Mr. G. S. Viereck's saucy apol 
ogy for being a pro-German, the cue of recent 
writers has been canonization. Mr. Maclntire, for 
example, prefaced by General Wood, has written 
a purely "inspirational" narrative with a conquer 
ing hero ready for the moving-picture screen or a 
Henty novel or a place on the juvenile bookshelf 
beside "The Boys' King Arthur." As a specimen 
of its critical quality, I select the following passage, 
with the suggestion that it be read in connection 
with the report of the Federal Commission on the 
Packers : "One shudders to think of what fate 
would have befallen the United States if the monop 
olies which Roosevelt curbed while he was President 
had been allowed to flourish until this era of revolu 
tion." The first three volumes of "Roosevelt, His 
Life, Meaning, and Messages," is a collection of 
important speeches, articles, and messages arranged 
by William Griffith; the fourth volume by Eugene 
Thwing is a rapid biographical compilation, jour 
nalistic, readable, and concluding with the happy 
thought that if the meaning of Roosevelt's life 
is fully appreciated we shall find in the next genera 
tion of Americans "a veritable race of moral 



ROOSEVELT 259 

giants." Mr. Lewis's book, for which Mr. Taft 
supplies an introduction, is, of course, a work of 
quite another order. For the earlier period it is 
almost as entertaining as the Autobiography, and 
for the latter years, particularly for the history 
of the Progressive movement, in which the author 
was an important participant, it is an independent 
authority and an animated and agreeable one with 
many small intimate strokes of appreciation. Mr. 
Lewis candidly announces that he considers his sub 
ject too near for "impartial judgment," and he lives 
up to his declaration most loyally, contending that 
practically everything Roosevelt said and did was 
exactly the right thing to say and do. 

The eulogists and biographers claim rather too 
much, and one could wish that they would take a 
little more pains to harmonize their favorite facts. 
In order to illustrate the power of mind over matter, 
they all foster the tradition of Roosevelt's sickly 
youth. But Mr. Maclntire speaks of him in the 
New York Assembly as "this puny young chap" at 
just the period in which Mr. Thwing, after a refer 
ence to his "puny voice and puny hand," exhibits 
him knocking out the slugger Stubby Collins and 
mopping up the floor with "several" others. There 
is a similar discrepancy with regard to his linguistic 
attainments. Roosevelt himself testified that he 
was "lamentably weak in Latin and Greek"; but 
Mr. Thwing asserts that he was "a scholar of the 
first rank in the classics." One observer describes 



260 AMERICANS 

his conversational French at a luncheon in the White 
House as voluble, but regardless of accent and 
grammar; but Mr. Thwing says that "the savants 
of the Sorbonne heard him address them in as flaw 
less French as they themselves could employ." Mr. 
Maclntire credits Roosevelt with the message order 
ing Dewey to sail into the port of Manila; Mr. 
Lewis says it has been established that Secretary 
Long sent it. Mr. Thwing makes him the dis 
coverer and namer of the River of Doubt; Mr. 
Lewis represents him as only the explorer of that 
river which in his honor was renamed Teodoro by 
the Brazilian Government. When there is a differ 
ence with regard to verifiable facts, Mr. Lewis ap 
pears generally to be right. In the total estimates, 
however, there is no significant difference; the 
biographers agree that Roosevelt was "our typi 
cal American," and possessed every important vir 
tue that we admire. 

When the critical biographer arrives he will re- 
examine this total estimate. Perhaps he will be 
challenged to re-examination by a certain passage 
towards the end of Mr. Lewis's book: "In the year 
1918, a friend referred to the year 1921 as the year 
when he (Roosevelt) would again enter the White 
House. He had been in one of his jocular moods, 
but he immediately became very serious. 'No,' 
he said, 'not I. I don't want it, and I don't think 
I am the man to be nominated. I made too many 
enemies, and the people are tired of my candidacy'." 



ROOSEVELT 261 

Mr. Roosevelt knew "the people." When he said, 
"I made too many enemies, and the people are tired 
of my candidacy," he admitted what none of the 
biographers concedes, the waning of his star, his 
perception that he could no longer, as in 1904, say 
"We believe" with strong confidence that he was 
uttering the convictions of the overwhelming ma 
jority of his countrymen. Both he and "the people" 
had changed, but the people had changed more pro 
foundly than he in ways which I shall attempt to 
indicate by sketching an answer to three questions: 
First, what were the dominant aspects of the na 
tional character at about the time of Mr. Roose 
velt's advent in public life? Second, what signifi 
cant alterations in the national psychology did he 
produce in the period during which his personality 
was most heartily accepted as an incarnation of the 
national character? Third, how and to what ex 
tent has his national representativeness diminished? 

II 

Mr. Roosevelt did not emerge conspicuously on 
the national horizon till late in the nineties. The 
preceding decade appears to have contained extra 
ordinarily little to kindle the imaginations of spirited 
and public-minded young men. There had been no 
war since the youth of their fathers. The Govern 
ment pursued a policy of sombre rather than "splen 
did" isolation. The country offered its imposing 



262 AMERICANS 

attractions chiefly to the big business men. Cap 
tains of industry flourished like the green bay tree. 
For diversion there was riotous striking in the Car 
negie Steel Works at Homestead; but the State 
militia put it down. In 1893 there was a financial 
panic; but it blew over. In 1894 Coxey led an army 
of the unemployed to Washington; but it dispersed 
like the chorus of a musical comedy amid general 
laughter. The Columbian Exposition, at the open 
ing of which Chauncey Depew assisted, was on the 
whole a symbol of a period of unexampled ma 
terial prosperity in commerce, agriculture, and man 
ufactures. In 1896 William McKinley, son of an 
iron manufacturer and author of a tariff bill de 
signed to protect the farmers from the plain people 
as the manufacturers had already been protected, 
was elected President under the skilful management 
of Mark Hanna, wholesale grocer, coal and iron 
merchant, later United States Senator. Mr. Ros- 
coe Thayer remarks in his life of Hay that the 
most representative American in the third quarter 
of the century was P. T. Barnum; and the methods 
and ideals of Mark Hanna as political manager he 
compares to the methods and ideals of Barnum. 
From the popular magazines, reflecting current 
standards of success, the aspiring youth learned 
that by frugality and industry he might become as 
rich as Andrew Carnegie or John D. Rockefeller or 
as noble and distinguished as Chauncey Depew. 



ROOSEVELT 263 

The Plutocratic era lacked outside the field of 
business ideas, imagination, animating purpose. 

Mark Twain, in some ways a singularly sensitive 
person, curiously illustrates the point. He pos 
sessed ambition and a restless energy which should, 
of course, have found satisfaction and ample reward 
in the production of literature; but in this decade he 
seems to have been irresistibly driven by the time- 
spirit to compete with the acknowledged leaders 
of American life in their own field. He spent him 
self trying to get rich and live in the grand style like 
his friend Carnegie and his friend Henry Rogers. 
Feverishly pushing his publishing house, his type 
setting machine, and a half dozen projects for roll 
ing up a fortune, he began to use literature as a 
mere handmaid to finance and to regard himself 
as a financier. He felt himself daily on the brink of 
immense wealth while he was actually headed for 
bankruptcy. His recently published letters give the 
emotional reaction. Reading the morning papers, 
he says, makes him spend the rest of the day "plead 
ing for the damnation of the human race." "Man 
is not to me the respect-worthy person he was be 
fore ; and so I have lost my pride in him, and can't 
write praisefully about him any more." He thinks 
that he detects in Howells something of his own 
ennui: "indifference to sights and sounds once brisk 
with interest; tasteless stale stuff which used to be 
champagne; the boredom of travel; the secret sigh 



264 AMERICANS 

behind the public smile; the private What-in-hell- 
did-I-come-for." 

With less bitterness Mr. Dooley in 1897, the 
year of Queen Victoria's jubilee testifies to the 
same effect in summarizing the achievements of his 
own time in America : 

While she was lookin' on in England, I was look- 
in' on in this counthry. I have seen America spread 
out fr'm th' Atlantic to th' Pacific, with a branch 
office iv th' Standard He Comp'ny in ivry hamlet. 
I've seen th' shackles dropped fr'm th' slave, so's he 
cud be lynched in Ohio. ... an' Corbett beat 
Sullivan, an' Fitz beat Corbett . . . An' th' 
invintions . . th' cotton gin an' th' gin sour 
an' th' bicycle an' th' flying machine an' th' nickle- 
in-th'-slot machine an' th' Croker machine an' th' 
sody fountain an' crownin' wurruk iv our civiliza 
tion th' cash raygister. 

It would be easy to multiply illustrations of the 
effect of this busy but mercenary and humdrum na 
tional mind upon the finer spirits in the political 
arena. John Hay, for example, as Secretary of 
State under McKinley, seems to have gone earnestly 
about his work, suppressing now a yawn of disgust, 
now a sigh of despair. "Office holding per se" 
he writes in 1900, "has no attraction for me." He 
has some far-sighted policies for his department, but 
he can't put them through, for "there will always be 
34 per cent of the Senate on the blackguard side of 
every question that comes before them." Even 
more of this quiet disgust with American public 



ROOSEVELT 265 

life appears in the now celebrated diary of Henry 
Adams, a man who "had everything," born into 
the governing class yet holding no higher office than 
that of private secretary to his father, unless it 
was the position of assistant professor of history 
at Harvard. When the latter position was offered 
to him, he remarked in a blase tone which would 
have thunderstruck his great-grandfather: "It could 
not much affect the sum of solar energies whether 
one went on dancing with girls in Washington, or 
began talking to boys in Cambridge." Still more 
striking is Adams' analysis of the American char 
acter in government circles. It might be true, he 
said, in New York or Chicago, that the American 
was "a pushing, energetic, ingenious person, always 
awake and trying to get ahead of his neighbors;" 
but it was not true in Washington. "There the 
American showed himself, four times in five, as a 
quiet, peaceful, shy figure, rather in the mould of 
Abraham Lincoln, somewhat sad, sometimes pa 
thetic, once tragic; or like Grant, as inarticulate, 
uncertain, distrustful of himself, still more distrust 
ful of others, and awed by money. That the Ameri 
can by temperament worked to excess, was true; 
work and whiskey were his stimulants ; work was a 
form of vice; but he never cared much for money 
or power after he earned them. The amusement of 
the pursuit was all the amusement he got from it; 
he had no use for wealth." 

While the national mind was absorbed in business 



266 AMERICANS 

why should young men born to wealth and social 
position strive to thrust themselves in between the 
captains of industry and their political representa 
tives? Possessing at the start the objects of the 
race, why should they contend? Politics was gener 
ally described as dirty and uninspiring; why should 
they subject themselves to its soil and fatigue? How 
some of them were answering such questions, Jacob 
Riis revealed in his life of Roosevelt: 

They were having a reunion of his [Roosevelt's] 
class when he was Police Commissioner, and he was 
there. One of the professors told of a student 
coming that day to bid him good-bye. He asked 
him what was to be his work in the world. 

"Oh!" he said, with a little yawn, "really do you 
know, professor, it does not seem to me that there 
is anything that is much worth while." 

Ill 

Then came the impact upon the national character 
of the Rooseveltian personality, persuaded that 
there are a hundred more interesting things than 
making money, all "worth while :" hunting grizzlies, 
reforming, exploring, writing history, traveling, 
fighting Spaniards, developing a navy, governing 
men, reading Irish epics, building canals, swimming 
the Potomac with ambassadors, shooting lions, 
swapping views with kaisers, organizing new par 
ties, and so on forever. Under the influence of 
this masterful force the unimaginative plutocratic 



ROOSEVELT 267 

psychology was steadily metamorphosed into the 
psychology of efficient, militant, imperialistic na 
tionalism. When Roosevelt heard of the young 
man to whom nothing seemed much worth while, he 
is said to have struck the table a blow with his fist, 
exclaiming: "That fellow ought to have been 
knocked in the head. I would rather take my 
chances with a blackmailing policeman than with 
such as he." Mr. Riis remarks, "This is what 
Roosevelt got out of Harvard." But clearly he 
didn't get it out of Harvard. He found it this 
wrath at the sluggard in his own exuberant tem 
perament. Most of his biographers foolishly in 
sist that he had no extraordinary natural endow 
ment. The evidence is all otherwise, indicating a 
marvellous physical and mental energy and blood 
beating so hot and fast through brain and sinew 
that he was never bored in his life. He never felt 
the ennui or the horrid languor of men like Hay and 
Henry Adams. He had such excess of animal spirits 
that, as every one knows, he was accustomed, after 
battling with assemblymen or Senators, to have in 
a prizefighter to knock him down. 

Whatever delighted him he sought to inculcate 
upon the American people so that Rooseveltism 
should be recognized as synonymous with Ameri 
canism. Mr. Lewis is at some pains to point out 
that in his private life he was an old-fashioned 
gentleman and invariably dressed for dinner. The 
fact is mildly interesting, but its public influence 



268 AMERICANS 

was absolutely negligible. Rooseveltism can never 
be interpreted to mean dressing for dinner. Prac 
tically he was a powerful aider and abettor of 
the movement to banish the word "gentleman" from 
the American vocabulary, except as a term of con 
tempt. He was ostentatious about his friendships 
with Mike Donovan, Fitzsimmons, Sullivan, and 
Battling Nelson, just as he was about his pursuit 
of the big game of North America, because he 
loved the larger vertebrates and wished to implant 
an affection for them in the national mind. In his 
sports he can hardly be called a typical American; 
the typical American cannot employ the champion 
pugilists, nor follow the Meadowbrook hounds, nor 
hunt elephants with a regiment of bearers. These 
are the sports of emperors and rajahs and the sport 
ing sons of multimillionaires. Still Mr. Roosevelt 
took them up and journalized them in behalf of a 
strenuous athletic ideal for the nation. A powerful 
animal himself, he gloried, day in and day out, in 
the fundamental animal instincts and activities, re 
productive and combative, the big family and the 
big stick, the "full baby carriage" and "hitting hard 
and hitting first;" and he preached them in season 
and out of season. 

I will give two illustrations. On his return from 
slaughtering elephants in Africa, he stopped off in 
Berlin to tell the Germans about the world-move 
ment. That was in 1910; and perhaps the Germans 
were then almost as well informed with regard to 



ROOSEVELT 269 

the world-movement as Mr. Roosevelt. But in 
those days his exuberance was very great; for it 
had been two years since he had sent a message to 
Congress, and he found relief for his pent-up ener 
gies in bestowing advice all the way around the 
European circuit. Accordingly he solemnly warned 
the Germans that one of "the prime dangers of 
civilization has always been its tendency to cause 
the loss of virile fighting virtues, of the fighting 
edge." At the same time he marked it as a re 
assuring sign of our modern period that there were 
then larger standing armies than ever before in 
the world. These words seemed to his German 
hearers so fitly spoken that they then and there 
made Mr. Roosevelt a doctor of philosophy. He 
lectured also at the Sorbonne, finding a text in a 
novel of Daudet's in which the author speaks of 
"the fear of maternity which haunts the young 
mother." The country in which that is generally 
true, cried Roosevelt to that country of declining 
birth-rate, is "rotten to the core." "No refinement 
of life," he continued, "can in any way compensate 
for the loss of the great fundamental virtues; and 
of these great fundamental virtues the greatest is 
the race's power to perpetuate the race." 

Roosevelt's mental exuberance may be suggest 
ively measured in this fashion. Mark Twain, when 
he got under way, was a fairly voluble talker. But 
Mark Twain was silent and overwhelmed in the 
presence of Rudyard Kipling. Kipling, then, had 



270 AMERICANS 

a certain flow of ideas. But Kipling was silent and 
overwhelmed in the presence of Roosevelt. Again I 
quote Mr. Thayer: 

I have heard Mr. Rudyard Kipling tell how he 
used to drop in at the Cosmos Club at half past ten 
or so in the evening, and presently young Roosevelt 
would come and pour out projects, discussions of 
men and politics, criticisms of books, in a swift and 
full-volumed stream, tremendously emphatic and en 
livened by bursts of humor. "I curled up on the 
seat opposite," said Kipling, "and listened and won 
dered, until the universe seemed to be spinning round 
and Theodore was the spinner.' ' 

IV 

Roosevelt quickened the pace of national life by 
his own mental and physical speed. His special con 
tribution, however, was not the discovery but the 
direction of strenuousness. The captains of indus 
try had been strenuous enough. He found a new 
object for physical and mental energy on the grand 
scale. More than any other man of his time he 
made political eminence a prize of the first order by 
his own unequivocal preference of public service 
and glory to private opulence and ease. The exi 
gencies of his later political life associated him in 
deed with what a western humorist has described 
as the "high-low-brows;" he consorted with publi 
cans and sinners; he broke bread with bosses and 
malefactors of great wealth; he played up the prize- 



ROOSEVELT 271 

fighters and the cowboys; he hurled epithets at 
Byzantine logothetes and college professors: so 
that one almost forgets that he began his career 
distinctly on the "high-brow" side as a "silk-stock 
ing" reformer, supported by the vote of the "brown- 
stone fronts," foremost of the pure-principled pur 
poseful young "college men in politics" in an era 
of sordid greed and corruption. But in the days 
when he was assemblyman at Albany, police com 
missioner, and civil service reformer, men did not 
speak of him nor did he speak of himself as a "prac 
tical politician." In those days there was a cer 
tain bloom on the fruit that he reached for ; and he 
did not disdain to speak of himself as a "practical 
idealist." In that role he delighted even fastidious 
disciples of Charles Eliot Norton's fastidious 
school; and he exercised a wonderfully tonic in 
fluence upon well-bred young men of his generation. 
His first great service was to his own prosperous 
class, to young men of means in college, to the "in 
tellectuals" generally. He did not preach against 
wealth. He held, like the philosopher Frank Crane, 
that "men who get $20,000 a year and up are the 
most valuable citizens of the nation." On the other 
hand, he maintained, like that journalistic sage, that 
the man who inherits a million and spends his days 
playing bridge and changing his trousers is "a cootie 
on the body politic." To fortune's favored sons 
he declared the responsibilities of wealth and he 
taught the right uses of leisure. In the vein of 



272 AMERICANS 

Carlyle and Kipling he preached against an idle, 
pleasure-seeking life as not merely undesirable, but 
contemptible. He preached the gospel of work for 
every man that comes into the world, work to the 
uttermost of his capacity; responsibility for every 
advantage and every talent; ignominy and derision 
for the coward and the shirker and the soft-handed 
over-fastidious person who thinks public life too 
rough and dirty for his participation. Writing of 
machine politics in 1886, he said, rather fatalisti 
cally: "If steady work and much attention to detail 
are required, ordinary citizens, to whom participa 
tion in politics is merely a disagreeable duty, will 
always be beaten by the organized army of politi 
cians to whom it is both duty, business, and pleasure, 
and who are knit together and to outsiders by their 
social relations." But in 1894 he put the bugle 
to his lips and summoned the more intelligent class 
of "ordinary citizens" to arms: 

The enormous majority of our educated men have 
to make their own living. . . . Nevertheless, 
the man of business and the man of science, the 
doctor of divinity and the doctor of law, the archi 
tect, the engineer and the writer, all alike owe a 
positive duty to the community, the neglect of which 
they cannot excuse on any plea of their private 
affairs. They are bound to follow understandingly 
the course of public events; they are bound to try 
to estimate and form judgments upon public men; 
and they are bound to act intelligently and effect 
ively in support of the principles which they deem 



ROOSEVELT 273 

to be right and for the best interests of the coun 
try. ... If our educated men as a whole be 
come incapable of playing their full part in our life, 
if they cease doing their share of the rough, hard 
work which must be done, and grow to take a posi 
tion of mere dilettanteism in our public affairs, they 
will speedily sink in relation to their fellows who 
really do the work of governing, until they stand 
toward them as a cultivated, ineffective man with 
a taste for bric-a-brac stands toward a great artist. 
When once a body of citizens becomes thoroughly 
out of touch and out of temper with the national 
life, its usefulness is gone, and its power of leaving 
its mark on the times is gone also. 

I have italicized in this passage the characteristic 
three-fold appeal: the straightforward statement 
of duty, the craftily constructed contemptuous 
phrase for the dilettante, the quiet but significant 
reference to the rewards of virtue. In Roosevelt's 
heart there sang lifelong the refrain of Tennyson's 
ode on the Duke of Wellington, "The path of duty 
is the way to glory;" and he made it sing in the 
ears of his contemporaries until the blase young 
man of the Yellow Nineties became unfashionable, 
yielding his place to the Man Who Does Things. 
This alteration of the national psychology was of 
profound importance. It marked the difference be 
tween a nation headed for decadence and a nation 
entering upon a renaissance ; and Roosevelt's service 
in bringing it about can hardly be overvalued. Some 
appraisers of his merits say that his most notable 



274 AMERICANS 

achievement was building the Panama Canal. I 
should say that his most notable achievement was 
creating for the nation the atmosphere in which 
valor and high seriousness live, by clearing the air 
of the poisonous emanations of "superior" people: 

Let the man of learning, the man of lettered 
leisure, beware of that queer and cheap temptation 
to pose to himself and to others as the cynic, as the 
man who has outgrown emotions and beliefs, the 
man to whom good and evil are as one. The poor 
est way to face life is to face it with a sneer. 
There is no more unhealthy being, no man less 
worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, 
or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering contempt 
toward all that is great and lofty, whether in 
achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it 
fails, comes second to achievement. . . . The 
man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure 
in the pages of history, whether he be cynic, fop, or 
voluptuary. 

Preaching duty and meditating on glory, Roose 
velt came up through the dull nineties as the apostle 
of "applied idealism;" and all good men spoke well 
of him. He seemed to be striking out a new and 
admirable type of public man: well bred but stren 
uous, ambitious but public-spirited, upright but prac 
tical and efficient the idealist who gets things done 
which everyone agrees ought to be done. But few 
men guessed the height and depth of desire in this 
fighter of legislative crooks, this reformer of metro 
politan police, this advocate of the merit system; 



ROOSEVELT 275 

and no one knew what his ideas and temperament 
would do to the national life if he became its ac 
knowledged leader. In 1898 came the Spanish 
War, then the governorship of New York, the vice- 
presidency in 1900, and a year later Roosevelt was 
in the saddle. These events swiftly disclosed the 
wider horizon of his mind and the scope of his 
ambition for himself and for America. The war 
with Spain brought him forward as the Seminole 
War brought forward Andrew Jackson; and his 
personality was immensely responsible for the effect 
of that "incident" upon the national character. 



Mr. Roosevelt was an admirer of Thucydides, 
but he was a much less philosophical historian; for 
he says that the war with Spain was "inevitable," 
and leaves his readers to explain why. The small 
jingo class whose veins perennially throb with red 
blood and national honor fought, of course, to 
avenge the blowing-up of the Maine. The mass of 
the plain people with their perennial simple-hearted 
idealism were persuaded that they were going in to 
set Cuba free, even after they discovered that they 
had also gone in to subjugate the Philippine Islands. 
Mr. J. A. Hobson, the English economist, says : 

Not merely do the trusts and other manufactur 
ing trades that restrict their output for the home 
market more urgently require foreign markets, but 



276 AMERICANS 

they are also more anxious to secure protected 
markets, and this can only be achieved by extending 
the area of political rule. This is the essential sig 
nificance of the recent change in American foreign 
policy as illustrated by the Spanish War, the Philip 
pine annexation, the Panama policy, and the new 
application of the Monroe doctrine to the South 
American States. South America is needed as a 
preferential market for investment of trust "profits" 
and surplus trust products: if in time these States 
can be brought within a Zollverein under the suzer 
ainty of the United States, the financial area of 
operations receives a notable accession. 

There is an absence of rose-pink altruism from this 
last explanation which should commend it to The 
Chicago Tribune; but Roosevelt, though the 
Tribune's chief hero, would certainly have rejected 
it for an interpretation at once more personal and 
more political. 

It is fairly plain that this war, which he had 
done his utmost to prepare for and to bring about, 
was first of all an opportunity for a man of his 
strenuous leisure class with fighting blood and fight 
ing edge to win personal distinction. He himself 
speaks of his baptism of fire as his "crowded hour 
of glorious life;" and throughout his narrative of 
the exploits of his regiment "My men were chil 
dren of the dragon's blood" he exhibits a delight 
in fighting that reminds one of the exuberant praise 
of "glorious battle" uttered early in the late war 
by the Colonel of the Death's Head Hussars. He 



ROOSEVELT 277 

is as proud of personally bringing down his Span 
iard as of slaying his first lion. He played his 
daring and picturesque part in a way to rehabilitate 
military glory in the national mind. But for the 
astonishing skill with which he wrung the last drop 
of dramatic interest from his troop of college men 
and cowboys the reverberations of the affair would 
soon have died away in the popular consciousness. 
He made the deeds of the Rough Riders a popular 
classic like Lexington and Bunker Hill. His little 
war did as much to kindle as Mr. Wilson's big war 
did to quench the military spirit; for Mr. Wilson 
went in with the grim determination of a chief of 
police, and Mr. Roosevelt with the infinite gusto 
of a big game hunter. His little war, as he him 
self declared, made him President. 

In office, he did not sicken of power as did the 
Washingtonians of whom Henry Adams speaks. 
With the vast influence of his position he sought to 
mould the national mind and feelings into the like 
ness of his own. He sought to make the national 
mind virile, daring, imaginative, aggressive, and 
eager for distinction in the world. He preached 
to the nation as if it were a rich man of leisure with 
a splendid opening, made by his war, for the practice 
of the strenuous life. He set the example by magni 
fying his own office, concentrating power, teaching 
the public to look to the Federal Government as 
the controlling, dynamic, and creative center of 
American life. His measure for the regulation of 



278 AMERICANS 

monopolies, his seizure of the canal zone, his irri 
gation acts, his reservation of public lands all exem 
plify in one way and another his aversion from 
the spirit of laissez-faire, his passion for identify 
ing the state with the man who does things. In do 
mestic affairs this policy generally estranged the "big 
interests" and won the support of the "plain people." 
In foreign affairs the big interests supported him, 
but the plain people were first dazzled, and then 
astonished, and then a little perplexed. The plain 
people do not understand foreign affairs. 

President McKinley, by instinct and upbringing 
a domestically-minded statesman, had indeed begun 
to speak in a resigned way of manifest destiny with 
regard to our newly acquired island possessions. He 
could hardly do otherwise, for this was the mid 
summer time of the imperial enthusiasm of the 
"Anglo-Saxons." These were the days of Rhode- 
sian dreamers; Kitchener was fighting in Egypt; 
Roberts was fighting in South Africa; and in 1899 
Mr. Kipling struck up his famous chant: "Take up 
the white man's burden, send forth the best ye 
breed." And so McKinley gravely recognized our 
manifest destiny in the Far East. Yet John Hay 
says that he was called in by McKinley to discuss 
foreign affairs not more than once a month, but 
that as soon as Roosevelt was in office he was called 
upon every day. It was Roosevelt first who em 
braced manifest destiny with the joy of an enkind 
led political imagination. It was he that resolutely 



ROOSEVELT 279 

sought to waken the expansive energies of the na 
tion and to give it the fighting edge and the will 
to prevail in the impending conflicts of the powers. 
It was he that tirelessly went up and down the 
land declaring that the imperialistic tendencies de 
veloped by the Spanish War were tokens of national 
virility and that the responsibilities of the new for 
eign policy were glorious opportunities for men of 
the heroic mood imbued with the new Rooseveltian 
Americanism. 

If we are to mark his place in the spiritual history 
of the times, we must clearly understand the temper 
which, at the turn of the century, he brought into 
our era of atrocious international conflicts. No 
where, perhaps, did he declare more eloquently the 
gospel of militant imperialistic nationalism than in 
his address on The Strenuous Life, delivered before 
the Hamilton Club of Chicago in 1899: 

The timid man, the lazy man, the man who dis 
trusts his country, the over-civilized man who has 
lost the great fighting virtues, the ignorant man 
and the man of dull mind, whose soul is incapable 
of feeling the mighty lift that thrills "stern men 
with empires in their brains" all these, of course, 
shrink from seeing the nation undertake its new 
duties. . . . The army and navy are the sword 
and shield which the nation must carry if she is to 
do her duty among the nations of the earth. 
The twentieth century looms before us big with the 
fate of many nations. If we stand idly by, if we 
seek merely swollen slothful ease and ignoble peace, 



280 AMERICANS 

if we shrink from the hard contests where men must 
win at hazard of their lives and at the risk of all 
they hold dear, then the bolder and stronger peoples 
will pass us by, and will win for themselves the 
domination of the world. Let us, therefore, boldly 
face the life of strife. . . . Above all, let us 
shrink from no strife, moral or physical, within or 
without the nation for it is only through strife, 
through hard and dangerous endeavors, that we 
shall ultimately win the goal of true national great 
ness. 

That the sentiments and principles here expressed 
sound very familiar to us today is not, I fancy, be^ 
cause most of us have been reading Roosevelt's 
addresses of the Spanish War period, but because 
we have been reading the utterances of the Pan- 
Germans whom Roosevelt himself in 1910 was ad 
juring not to lose the fighting edge and whom he 
was congratulating on the size of European military 
establishments as a sign of health and virility. Ret 
rospectively considered, his solicitude for the fight 
ing edge of the Germans reminds one of the matador 
in Blasco Ibanez's Blood and Sand, who, it will be 
remembered, prays for a "good bull." With the 
essentials in the religion of the militarists of Ger 
many, Roosevelt was utterly in sympathy. He be 
lieved that if you kept your fighting edge keen 
enough no one would seriously question your right 
eousness. The only significant difference in objects 
was that while they invoked the blessing of Jeho 
vah upon Pan-Germany he invoked it upon Pan- 



ROOSEVELT 281 

America, meaning the United States and her depen 
dencies, protectorates, and spheres of influence 
and the Pan-America of his dream made Mittel- 
Europa look like a postage-stamp. The highest 
point of his working upon the national mind, the 
point at which his powerful personality most nearly 
succeeded in transforming the national character 
from its original bias, was that in which he made it 
half in love with military glory, half in love with 
empire-building, half in love with the sort of strug 
gle which was preparing in Europe for the domina 
tion of the world. 



VI 



The American leader of militant imperialistic na 
tionalism fell at the end of his last great fight, a 
fight which, it may be soberly said, he had done 
his utmost both immediately and remotely to pre 
pare for and to bring about. All his friends and 
many who were not his friends give him credit for 
the immediate preparation. But few of his friends 
claim or admit his profounder part in the prepara 
tion of the stage for the conflict, the will of the com 
batants, the conditions of the struggle, the prizes of 
victory. The preparation runs far back to the days 
when he began to preach the strenuous life in the 
flush of the Spanish War, to the days when he 
dangled before our eyes "those fair tropic islands," 
to the days when he boasted that he had taken 



282 AMERICANS 

Panama and let Congress debate after the act. In 
the stunning clash of militant imperialistic nations, 
a clash which was the "inevitable" goal of his life 
long policy, as it is that of every imperialist, he 
towered above his fellow-citizens, constantly and 
heroically calling to arms. His countrymen rose, 
but not for his battle. They fought, but not for his 
victory. Time and events with remorseless irony 
made him the standard-bearer and rallying point for 
an American host dedicated to the destruction of 
his policy of militant imperialistic nationalism 
abroad and at home. He said "Belgium," he men 
tioned Germany's transgressions of law; and his 
countrymen cheered and buckled on their armor. 
But if, during the war, he had dared to exhort them, 
as in the earlier time, "to face the life of strife 
for the domination of the world," they were in a 
mood to have torn him in pieces. In that mood 
they fought and won their war. Highly as they 
valued his instrumental services, the principles on 
which they waged it and the objects which they 
sought drew them away from Roosevelt and to 
wards Lincoln and Washington. 

At the present time it is obvious to everyone that 
a faction of his old friends, incorrigibly born and 
bred in militant imperialistic nationalism, are mak 
ing a fight over his body to wrest from the simple- 
hearted idealistic plain people the fruits of victory. 
Gloomy observers too gloomy, I think declare 
that the fruits are already gone. The exponents of 



ROOSEVELT 283 

nationalistic egoism and selfishness will win some 
partial and temporary triumphs in this as in other 
countries. In the immediate future the memory of 
Roosevelt will be the most animating force among 
our American Junkers. There will be an attempt 
to repopularize just those Bismarckian character 
istics of their hero which made him so utterly unlike 
Lincoln his moral hardness, his two-fistedness, the 
symbolic big stick. But his commanding force as 
chief moulder of the national mind is over. He 
must take his rank somewhere among the kings and 
kaisers in competition with whom he made his place 
in the spiritual history of his times. He can never 
again greatly inspire the popular liberal movement 
in America. The World War has too profoundly 
discredited the masters of Weltpolitik in his epoch. 
It has too tragically illuminated the connections be 
tween the cataclysm and the statecraft and mili 
taristic psychology behind it. He was a realist with 
no nonsense about him; but all the realists of the 
period are now under suspicion of being unrealistic 
in that they ignored the almost universal diffusion 
of "nonsense" or idealism among mankind. When 
Mr. Roosevelt fell out with "practical" men, he 
almost invariably strengthened his position with the 
plain people. It was when he offended their "non 
sense" as in his vindictive and ruthless onslaughts' 
upon his successor and upon his great rival, and in 
his conduct of the Panama affair that they began 
to doubt whether he had the magnanimity, the fair- 



284 AMERICANS 

ness of mind, the love of civil ways requisite to 
guide them towards the fulfillment of their historic 
destiny. He developed a habit of speaking so scorn 
fully of "over-civilization" and so praisefully of 
mere breeding and fighting as to raise the question 
that he himself raised about Cromwell, whether he 
had an adequate "theory of ends," and whether he 
did not become so fascinated with his means as fre 
quently to forget his ends altogether. 

Take the ever-burning matter of militarism. His 
apologists, like those of the Kaiser, all declare that 
he loved peace ; and one can quote passages to prove 
it. I will quote a beautiful passage from his speech 
in Berlin in 1910: "We must remember that it is 
only by working along the lines laid down by the 
philanthropists, by the lovers of mankind, that we 
can be sure of lifting our civilization to a higher 
and more permanent plane of well-being than ever 
was attained by any preceding civilization. Unjust 
war is to be abhorred ." I pause to ask whether 
any one thinks this remark about working on the 
lines of philanthropists and lovers of mankind is 
characteristic Rooseveltian doctrine. I now 
quote the rest of the passage : "But woe to the na 
tion that does not make ready to hold its own in time 
of need against all who would harm it. And woe 
thrice over to the nation in which the average man 
loses the fighting edge." I stop again and ask 
whether any one thinks that is not characteristic 
Rooseveltian doctrine? Why does the second of 



ROOSEVELT 285 

these sentences sound perfectly Rooseveltian and the 
first absolutely not? Because into the first he put 
a stroke of the pen; into the second the whole em 
phasis of his character. The first is his verbal sop 
to the idealist; the second is his impassioned mes 
sage to his generation. By his use of rhetorical bal 
ance he gives a superficial appearance of the mental 
equivalent; but by his violent and infallible em 
phasis he becomes the greatest concocter of "weasel" 
paragraphs on record. In time his hearers learned 
to distinguish what he said from what he stood for, 
the part of his speech which was official rhetoric 
from the part that quivered with personal force. 

He said, it is true, that "mere fervor for ex 
cellence in the abstract is a great mainspring for 
good work;" but in practice he night and day de 
nounced in the most intolerant language those who 
exhibited mere fervor for excellence in the abstract, 
and even those who sought excellence by other ways 
than his. He professed love for the plain people; 
but the Progressive episode looks today, so far as 
he was concerned, like a momentary hot fit and 
political aberration of a confirmed Hamiltonian, re 
garding the plain people not so much socially as 
politically, not so much as individuals as a massive 
instrument for the uses of the state and the govern 
ing class. He said that he had a regard for peace 
but he made plain that he loved and valued war; 
and he denounced every one else who said a good 
word for peace, he reviled every type of pacifist so 



286 AMERICANS 

mercilessly as to rouse suspicion as to whether he 
really cared a rap for the object of the pacifists. 
He expressed approval of arbitration; but he invari 
ably followed up such expressions with an assertion 
that the only effective arbitrator is a man in shining 
armor. He avowed a desire for international 
order; but his imagination and his faith did not 
rise to a vision of other ways of attaining it than 
the ways of Alexander and Caesar by the imperial 
dominion of armed power; and he denounced other 
modes of working for international order so bitterly 
as to raise a doubt as to his regard for the object. 
He admitted, like many of his followers, a faint and 
eleventh-hour respect for the abstract idea of a 
league of nations ; but he led in raising such a thun 
der of opposition to the only league within sight 
and reach that he weakened the hands of the Ameri 
can framers, and he raised a question as to what 
he meant in the old days by his fiery declamation 
against those who "make the impossible better for 
ever the enemy of the possible good." 

Mr. Roosevelt has attained satisfactions which he 
thought should console fallen empires : he has left 
heirs and a glorious memory. How much more 
glorious it might have been if in his great personal 
ity there had been planted a spark of magnanimity. 
If, after he had drunk of personal glory like a Scan 
dinavian giant, he had lent his giant strength to a 
cause of the plain people not of his contriving nor 
under his leadership. If in addition to helping win 



ROOSEVELT 287 

the war he had identified himself with the attain 
ment of its one grand popular object. From per 
forming this supreme service he was prevented by 
defects of temper which he condemned in Crom 
well, a hero whom he admired and in some respects 
strikingly resembled. Cromwell's desire, he says, 

was to remedy specific evils. He was too impatient 
to found the kind of legal and constitutional system 
which would prevent the recurrence of such evils. 
Cromwell's extreme admirers treat his impatience 
of the delays and shortcoming of ordinary constitu 
tional and legal proceedings as a sign of his great 
ness. It was just the reverse. . . . His strength, 
his intensity of conviction, his delight in exercising 
powers for what he conceived to be good ends; his 
dislike for speculative reforms and his inability to 
appreciate the necessity of theories to a practical 
man who wishes to do good work ... all 
these tendencies worked together to unfit him for 
the task of helping a liberty-loving people on the 
road to freedom. 



XI 

EVOLUTION IN THE ADAMS FAMILY 

Mr. Brooks Adams apologizes for the inadequacy 
of his introduction to his brother's philosophical 
remains on the ground that the publishers hurried 
him, saying that if he did not get the book out 
within the year it would have lost its interest. Of 
course the readers who take up The Education of 
Henry Adams because it is the sensation of the hour 
will soon drop away, perhaps have already done 
so; but interest in the Adamses, so long quiescent, 
so piquantly reawakened at the end of the fourth 
eminent generation, is likely to hold more serious 
readers for some time to come. Henry Adams has 
thrown out challenges which the reviewer cannot 
lightly answer nor easily ignore. What shall be 
done with that profoundly pessimistic theory of the 
"degradation of energy" a degradation alleged 
to be discoverable in the universe, in democracy, and 
even in that incorruptible stronghold of pure virtue, 
the Adams family? Every one who has sat blithely 
down to read The Education, much more to re 
view it, must have discovered that it is only the 
last or the latest chapter of a "continued story." 

288 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 289 

It is a lure leading into a vast literary edifice, built 
by successive generations, which one must at least 
casually explore before one can conceive what was 
the heritage of Henry Adams, or can guess whether 
the family's energy suffered degradation when it 
produced him. 

One who wishes to measure the decline from the 
source must begin with The Works of John 
Adams in ten volumes, edited by his grandson 
Charles Francis Adams I, and including a diary 
so fascinating and so important that one marvels 
that American students of letters are not occasion 
ally sent to it rather than to Pepys or Evelyn. One 
should follow this up with the charming letters of 
John's wife, Abigail, also edited by Charles Francis 
I, in 1841 a classic which would be in the American 
Everyman if our publishers fostered American as 
carefully as they foster English traditions. For 
John Quincy Adams, we have his own Memoirs in 
twelve volumes, being portions of that famous diary 
of which he said: "There has perhaps not been 
another individual of the human race whose daily 
existence from early childhood to fourscore years 
has been noted down with his own hand so minutely 
as mine;" also a separate volume called Life in a 
New England Town, being his diary while a student 
in the office of Theophilus Parsons at Newburyport. 
One may perhaps pass Charles Francis I with his 
life by Charles Francis II. Then one descends to the 
fourth generation, and reads the Autobiography of 



290 AMERICANS 

Charles Francis II, published in 1916, a notable 
book with interest not at all dependent upon re 
flected glory. Of Brooks Adams one must read 
at least The Emancipation of Massachusetts and 
the introduction to The Degradation of Democratic 
Dogma; and then one is tantalized on into The Law 
of Civilization and Decay, America's Economic 
Supremacy, and The Theory of Social Revolutions. 
Finally one approaches Henry's Education not quite 
unprepared and not overlooking the fact that, be 
sides biographies of Gallatm and Randolph, he 
wrote what has been called "incomparably the best" 
history of the administrations of Jefferson and 
Madison, in nine volumes distinguished by lucid 
impartiality, and Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, 
an interpretation of the twelfth century as im 
pressive in height and span as the great cathedral 
which Adams takes as the symbol of his thought. 
Historians, of course, are familiar with all these 
paths. I should like, however, to commend them 
a little to gentler and less learned readers. Taken 
not as material for history but as the story of four 
generations of great personalities, living always near 
the center of American life, the Adams annals sur 
pass anything we have produced in fiction. One 
may plunge into them as into the Comedie Humaine 
of Balzac or Zola's Rougon-Macquart series and 
happily lose contact with the world, which, if we 
may believe Brooks Adams, ultimus Romanorum, is 
going so fatally to the dogs. Perhaps an Adams of 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 291 

the present day must come forth from the study 
of his heredity, environment, and education with 
a conviction that he is an automaton, moved for 
ward by the convergence of "lines of force," and 
that he is a poorer automaton than his grandfather. 
But for my part, I have emerged from these narra 
tives much braced by contact with the stout, proud, 
purposeful Adams will, and with an impression that 
their latest pessimistic theories are poorly supported 
by their facts. 

The Adams pessimism has a certain tonic quality 
due to its origin in the Adams sense for standards. 
The three Adonises, Charles Francis, Brooks, and 
Henry, have humiliated themselves all their lives 
by walking back and forth before the portraits of 
their statesmen ancestors and measuring their own 
altitude against that of "the friends of Washing 
ton." An Adams should always be in the grand style. 
So history presents them to the young imagination: 
Plutarchan heroes, august republicans, ever engaged 
in some public act or gesture such as Benjamin West 
liked to spread on his canvases drafting the Decla 
ration of Independence, presenting credentials to 
George III, signing the Monroe doctrine, fulminat 
ing in Congress against the annexation of Texas, or 
penning the famous dispatch to Lord Russell: "It 
would be superfluous to point out to your lordship 
that this is war." In a nation which has endured for 
a hundred and fifty years, it ought not to be easy 
to equal the elevation of character, or to attain the 



292 AMERICANS 

heights of achievement reached by the most eminent 
men. There should be in every old national gallery 
certain figures unassailably great to rebuke the na 
tural insolence of younger generations and silently 
to remind a young man that he must have a strong 
heart and almost wear it out before he can hope to 
deserve what these worthies have made the proudest 
of rewards, the thanks and the remembrance of the 
Republic. 

For an Adams, who needs a bit of humility, it no 
doubt is wholesome to dwell on the superiority of his 
forefathers; but for the average man who needs a 
bit of encouragement, it is equally wholesome to re 
flect that John Adams represents a distinct "varia 
tion" of species. The family had been in America 
a hundred years before the grand style began to 
develop. In the words of Charles Francis I, "Three 
long successive generations and more than a century 
of time passed away, during which Gray's elegy in 
the country churchyard relates the whole substance 
of their history." If we can only understand the 
processes by which John was transformed from a 
small farmer's son to President of the United States, 
the evolution of the rest of the family will be as 
easy to follow as the transmission of wealth. Now, 
John's emergence is singularly devoid of miraculous 
aspects, and it is therefore of practical interest to 
the democrat. 

John abandoned the pitchfork and varied his 
species by taking two steps which in those days 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 293 

were calculated to put him in the governing class. 
He went to Harvard a course which may still be 
imitated, but which in 1755, when the total popula 
tion of the colonies only equalled that of one of our 
great cities, set a man far more distinctly in a class 
by himself than it does today, and marked him for 
a professional career. Second, after an insignifi 
cant interval of school teaching, he studied law in 
the office of Rufus Putnam, and thus entered a still 
smaller class, carefully restricted by limitation of 
the number of apprentices who could be taken in any 
office. 

At the same time he began keeping a diary, a 
habit which it is now the custom to ridicule. What 
strikes one about John's diary in his years of adoles 
cence is that he uses it as an instrument for mark 
ing his intellectual progress and getting himself in 
hand, neither of which is a morbid activity. He 
notes that he is of an amorous temperament and 
that his thoughts are liable to be "called off from 
law by a girl, a pipe, a poem, a love-letter, a Specta 
tor, a play, etc., etc." But studia in mores abeunt; 
and year after year he is digging away tenaciously 
and purposefully at studies which communicate a 
masculine vigor to the mind ; and he is reading, with 
instant application to his own future, authors that 
are still capable of putting a flame of ambition in 
a young man's vitals. 

The breadth and humanity of the old-fashioned 



294 AMERICANS 

program of reading for the bar may be suggested 
by one of his entries at the age of twenty-three: 

Labor to get distinct ideas of law, right, wrong, 
justice, equity; search for them in your own mind, 
in Roman, Grecian, French, English treatises of 
natural, civil, common, statute law; aim at an exact 
knowledge of the nature, end, and means of govern 
ment; compare the different forms of it with each 
other, and each of them with their effects on public 
and private happiness. Study Seneca, Cicero, and 
all other good moral writers; study Montesquieu, 
Bolingbroke, Vinnius, etc., and all other good civil 
writers. 

He enjoins it upon himself to observe the arts 
of popularity in the tavern, town-meeting, the train 
ing field, and the meeting-house, though it must be 
added that none of his line mastered these arts. 
He frequents the courts, converses with successful 
men, records a public-spirited act of Franklin's, and 
surmises after an hour's talk at Mayor Gardener's 
that "the design of Christianity was not to make 
men good riddle-solvers or good mystery-mongers 
but good men, good magistrates." After a bit of 
dawdling, he tells himself that "twenty-five years 
of the animal life is a great proportion to be spent 
to so little purpose." He vows to read twelve hours 
a day. He cries to himself: "Let love and vanity 
be extinguished, and the great passions of ambition, 
patriotism, break out and burn. Let little objects be 
neglected and forgot, and great ones engross, arouse, 
and exalt my soul." Such temper issued from that 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 295 

diet of lion's marrow, that energetic digestion of 
law and classical literature ! 



II 



The only remarkable aspect of the variation 
effected in this generation was that such a man as 
John Adams should have found such a wife as 
Abigail Smith, a woman descended from the relig 
ious aristocrats of New England, and her husband's 
equal in heart and mind. Her descendants of the 
present day would say that predetermined lines of 
force theological and legal converged here to 
strengthen the social position of John and to insure 
the production of John Quincy; but that is not the 
way most men think of their wooing. Abigail had 
no formal schooling; yet, as "female" education 
went in those days, it mattered little. She was obvi 
ously the "product" of that family culture and social 
discipline which, at their best, render formal school 
ing almost superfluous. She had the gaiety of good 
breeding, the effusion of quick emotions, and that 
fundamental firmness of character which are de 
veloped by a consciousness that one was born in 
the right class. From books, from table-talk, from 
the men and women who frequented her home, not 
least from her lover, she had derived the views 
of the classical mid-eighteenth century, with just a 
premonitory flush of romantic enthusiasm; she had 
become familiar with public affairs; she had ac- 



296 AMERICANS 

quired the tone and carriage, she had breathed in the 
great spirit, of such a woman as Cato would have 
a Roman wife and mother. 

Emerson cherished the thought of writing an 
American Plutarch. In such a book we should have 
a picture of Abigail managing her husband's estate 
in Braintree while he is at the Congress in Philadel 
phia through pestilence, siege, battles, and famine- 
prices not venturing to ask a word of his return, lest 
she perturb a mind occupied with public business. 
We should have her reply at a later period to one 
who asked whether she would have consented to 
her husband's going to France, had she known that 
he was to be absent so long: 

I recollected myself a moment, and then spoke 
the real dictates of my heart. "If I had known, sir, 
that Mr. Adams could have effected what he has 
done, I would not only have submitted to the absence 
I have endured, painful as it has been, but I would 
not have opposed it, even though three years should 
be added to the number (which Heaven avert). I 
find a pleasure in being able to sacrifice my selfish 
passions to the general good and in imitating the 
example which has taught me to consider myself 
and family but as the small dust of the scale when 
compared with the great community. 

We should see her called from her farm to be the 
first American lady at the English Court. We should 
remark that she finds the best manners in England 
in the home of the Bishop of St. Asaph, old friend 
of her adored Franklin, where, by the way, she 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 297 

meets those dangerous English radicals Priestley and 
Price. And with the warmth of fond native preju 
dice, we should adore her for writing home : 

Do you know that European birds have not half 
the melody of ours ? Nor is their fruit half so sweet, 
nor their flowers half so fragrant, nor their man 
ners half so pure, nor their people half so virtuous ; 
but keep this to yourself, or I shall be thought more 
than half deficient in understanding and taste. 

Ill 

In the jargon of Brooks and Henry Adams, as I 
have remarked, irresistible "lines of force" converge 
for the education of the second generation. More 
humanly speaking, the ambition of John, the tender 
ness and pride of Abigail, unite above the cradle 
of John Quincy, and most intelligently conspire to 
give him what he later was to recognize as "an un 
paralleled education." "It should be your care and 
mine," John writes to his wife, "to elevate the minds 
of our children, and exalt their courage, to acceler 
ate and animate their industry and activity." It is 
the fashion nowadays to assert, against the evidence 
of history, that great men in their critical hours are 
unconscious of their greatness; but these Adamses 
assuredly knew what they were about. With the 
fullest recognition that her boy's father and his 
friends are living classics, Abigail writes : 

Glory, my son, in a country which has given birth 
to characters, both in the civil and military depart- 



298 AMERICANS 

ments, which may vie with the wisdom and valor 
of antiquity. As an immediate descendant of one 
of these characters, may you be led to that disin 
terested patriotism and that noble love of country 
which will teach you to despise wealth, pomp, and 
equipage as mere external advantages, which cannot 
add to the internal excellence of your mind, or 
compensate for the want of integrity and virtue. 

Of course John Quincy was to use the "external 
advantages" which his mother a little hastily urged 
him to despise. By working twelve hours a day 
at the law, John Adams had raised the family from 
the ground up to a point at which he could give to 
the educational processes of his son a tremendous 
expansion and acceleration. At an age when John 
had been helping his father on the farm, from 
eleven to fourteen, John Quincy, son of the peace 
commissioner, was studying in Paris or Leyden, or 
travelling in Russia as private secretary to the 
American Envoy. He acquired history, diplomacy, 
geography as he acquired his French by what we 
call in the case of the last, "the natural method." 
It cannot be too much emphasized that in the second, 
third, and fourth generations the family and its 
connections were in position to provide a liberal 
education without resort to a university. Before 
John Quincy went to Harvard he had assisted in 
negotiating the treaty of peace between his country 
and Great Britain. The whole matter of external 
advantages may be summed up in a picture of the 
boy, at the age of eleven, returning from France in a 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 299 

ship with the French Ambassador, the Chevalier de 
la Luzerne, and his secretary M. Marbois, the three 
lying side by side on their cots and thus portrayed 
by the boy's proud father : 

The Ambassador reading out loud, in Black- 
stone's Discourse at his entrance on his Professor 
ship of the Common Law at the University, and my 
son correcting the pronunciation of every word and 
syllable and letter. The Ambassador said he was 
astonished at my son's knowledge; that he was a 
master of his own tongue, like a professor. M. 
Marbois said, Your son teaches us more than you; 
he has point de graces, point d'eloges. 

Charles Francis II, who knew his grandfather 
only in his old age, says that he was not of a "holiday 
temperament;" but the diary of John Quincy 
Adams's early life in Newburyport shows a fairly 
festive young Puritan, tempted, like his father be 
fore him, to frequent truancies from the law, read 
ing Tom Jones and Rousseau's Confessions, shoot 
ing, playing the flute, visiting, frequently dancing 
till three, occasionally drinking till dawn, and re 
gretting it for three days afterward. His social 
position was secure, his experience and attainments 
already notable, his career marked out, the reflected 
glamour of paternal glory gratifying; perhaps he 
asked himself why he should not rest on his oars 
while his contemporaries were catching up. Such 
considerations may occur to an Adams, but they 
do not remain with him. His ambition widens with 



300 AMERICANS 

his culture. He begins on the verge of manhood to 
pant for distinction, bids farewell to the revellers, 
girds up his loins, and strikes into his pace. 

John Quincy Adams had found his stride when 
he wrote to his father from London, December 29, 
1795: 

When I am clearly convinced that my duty com 
mands me to act, if the love of ease, or the love 
of life, or the love of fame itself, dear as it is, 
could arrest my hand, or give me a moment's hesi 
tation in the choice, I should certainly be fit for no 
situation of public trust whatever. ... So much 
for the principle. But I may go a little further. 
The struggle against a popular clamor is not with 
out its charms in my mind. 

In the next year, following the example of John 
Wesley, he began rising at four o'clock; and so 
eager was his mind, so tireless his industry, so com 
pletely had he taken himself in hand, that he rose 
not later than four-thirty for the next fifty years 
fifty years spent almost without interruption in pub 
lic service, fighting the Jacksonian democrats, fight 
ing for internal improvements, fighting the extension 
of slavery, fighting for free speech, till he sank in 
harness in his eighty-first year on the floor of the 
House of Representatives. 

His training in law and diplomacy had fitted him 
for statesmanship, and as a statesman chiefly he 
lives. But Brooks Adams makes much of his philo 
sophical temper and of his talent for scientific in- 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 301 

vestigation. For our purposes it is important also 
to note that he had a marked taste for literature, 
as the vast memoirs bear witness. In his old age 
he spoke of the "ecstasy of delight" with which he 
had heard a choir singing his version of the 65th 
Psalm as surpassing all the pleasure he had received 
in the whole course of his life from the praise of 
mortal men. His literary and his political aspira 
tions were intimately associated. He had hoped 
that his diary would rank next to the Holy Scrip 
tures as the record of one who "by the irresistible 
power of genius and the irrepressible energy of will 
and the favor of Almighty God" had "banished 
war and slavery from the face of the earth forever." 

IV 

Charles Francis Adams I, perhaps not the most 
ambitious of John Quincy's children, was the only 
one that survived him; he must therefore be our 
representative of the third generation. We may, 
however, pass lightly over him, because, though an 
eminent, sturdy, and capable man, he repeats in 
general the formative processes and the careers of 
his predecessors without any singular distinction or 
deviation from type. His richness of educational 
opportunity may be summarized by saying that he 
learned French at St. Petersburg, where his father 
was minister, spent several years at a school in Eng 
land, passed through the Boston Latin School and 



302 AMERICANS 

Harvard, and studied law and observed public men 
from the White House in the administration of his 
father and in the palmy days of Jackson, Clay, 
and Webster. Possibly if the father had retired 
after his defeat for reelection in 1828, Charles 
Francis might have felt more distinctly called to 
advance the Adams banner; but the almost imme 
diate return of the ex-president, plunging into his 
long Congressional career, preempted the field. 
Charles went to Boston, engaged in business, served 
for several years in the legislature, was elected to 
Congress in 1859, and crowned his achievements 
in the period of the Civil War by staunchly and 
successfully representing the Union in his ministry 
to Great Britain. 



Coming now to the representatives of the fourth 
generation, who made their careers after the Civil 
War, we confront once more the three Adonises who 
more or less darkly despair of the Republic and of 
the future of the Adams line Henry, Brooks, and 
Charles Francis II. All three were bred in the 
traditions of the great family, inherited its culture 
and social advantages, became conscious of an obli 
gation to distinguish themselves, strove to keep 
pace with the new nation which the war had created, 
and all three, rendering an account of their adven 
tures, intimate a degree of failure and rail at their 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 303 

education as inadequately adapting them to their 
circumstances. As a matter of fact they did fall 
short of the glory of their ancestors in that no one 
of them held public office of first-rate national im 
portance. But, on the other hand, none of them 
really competed with his illustrious predecessors. 
Each of them developed marked variations from 
the ante-bellum type, in one case so marked as to 
constitute a new species. If the ancestral energy is 
degraded, it is none the less abundantly present in 
them all. 

Charles Francis II, the least highly individual 
ized of the trio, was the one who most conspicuously 
fell into the stride of the new industrial, expansive 
America. At his graduation from Harvard in 1856 
he had discovered no remarkable aptitude for 
which he blames his teachers and so gravitated 
into a law office. At the outbreak of the war, it 
slowly occurred to him to enlist; but, once in, he 
enjoyed the hard athletic life, and developed a drill- 
master's pride in his company and In his regiment, 
at the head of which he rode into burning Rich 
mond. His military duties disclosed to him his 
talent for organization, and also the disquieting 
fact that famous fighters and great organizers were 
frequently beneath his standard for gentlemen; 
Grant, for example, "was a man of coarse fibre, 
and did not impress with a sense of character." 

But the war had toughened his own fibre and had 
opened his eyes to new careers for talents. When 



304 AMERICANS 

it was over, he turned to the study of railroads 
as the biggest enterprise of the new era, wrote his 
Chapters of Erie, became a member of the Massa 
chusetts Board of Railroad Commissioners, which 
was created largely through his instrumentality, and 
crowned his professional career with the presidency 
of the Union Pacific. He was perhaps the first 
Adams who looked west with any special interest. 
His flash of genius was divining the future impor 
tance of Kansas City. The business success on 
which he plumes himself is his organization of the 
Kansas City Stock Yards Company, which, under 
his forty-year headship, increased its capitalization 
from $100,000 to over ten millions, and earned 
annually above $1,200,000. He does not blush to 
declare that he also organized in Kansas City 
another enterprise which made in one year "twelve 
dividends of ten per cent each." 

The big business men, however, like the big gen 
erals, disappointed him socially: "Not one that I 
have ever known would I care to meet again, either 
in this world or the next." Having made, as the 
vulgar say, his "pile," this well-bred, energetic 
Massachusetts business man withdrew from the 
ungentlemanly world of business, moved from 
Quincy, the home of his ancestors, to Lincoln, be 
cause the former residence had become too "sub 
urban," and devoted his leisure to writing his 
memoirs, criticizing Harvard, and composing com 
munications to the Massachusetts Historical Soci- 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 305 

ety. At the age of fifty-five he burned his diary, 
full till then with the expectation that he might 
accomplish something notable; and in his Autobi 
ography, with the tang of the new Adams humility, 
he declares: "I now humbly thank fortune that I 
have almost got through life without making a con 
spicuous ass of myself." 

Brooks Adams also set out as a lawyer, but he 
seems to have retired much earlier into authorship. 
His writing is less perspicuous and well-ordered 
than that of his brother Charles; but that is partly 
because he has more ideas and more difficult ones. 
Brooks is a restless-minded lawyer of a not unfa 
miliar type, who turns here and there for something 
"craggy" upon which to wreak his excess of mental 
energy; and so he becomes amateur-historian, ama 
teur-economist, amateur-philosopher. The antiqua- 
rianism of historical societies is a bit too tame for 
his temper. Like his brother Henry, and indeed 
in collaboration with him, he seeks a law connecting 
phenomena, and in search of it he ransacks history. 
He imagines and declares that he has made his mind 
passive to the lessons of facts and that his results 
are scientific; but the truth is that he is a dogmatic 
materialist, an infatuated mechanist, who, when he 
has formulated an hypothesis, sees nothing between 
earth and heaven and the first Adam and the last 
Adams but the proof of it. 

Like his grandfather, he finds a certain charm in 



306 AMERICANS 

an unpopular position. Sitting in the neighborhood 
of Plymouth Rock, he discovers that the scutcheon 
of his Puritan forefathers blushes with the blood 
of Quakers and Anabaptists; and in his Emancipa 
tion of Massachusetts, Puritan as he is, he re 
morselessly prosecutes them as selfish and blood 
thirsty hypocrites. Looking further into history, 
he concludes that the same indictment can be 
brought against all religious societies and organi 
zations from the time of Moses down; for the facts 
constrain him to believe that the two master passions 
of man are Fear and Greed. If he refrains from 
censure, it is because he holds that mental as well 
as physical phenomena are determined as fatally as 
the earth moves round the sun. The examination 
of long periods of history impresses him with "the 
exceedingly small part played by conscious thought 
in moulding the fates of men." He applies the doc 
trine of manifest destiny in the most fatalistic sense 
to the Philippine Islands and to capitalistic society, 
which, however, seems to him on the point of dis 
integration into a condition from which it can only 
be revivified by an "infusion of barbarian blood." 

Brooks attributes many of his views to Henry 
and undertakes to interpret him; but temperamen 
tally he is not qualified to understand him. He 
admits, indeed, that there were crypts in his brother 
which he had never entered. Chief of these was 
the unfathomable crypt of his skepticism. By con- 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 307 

tact with Mill, Comte, Darwin, Spencer, all the 
Adamses of the fourth generation had been emanci 
pated from their attenuated hereditary belief in 
a beneficent overruling Providence. But Charles 
Francis II and Brooks recommitted themselves 
without reservation to the overweening posivitlsm 
of mid-century "scientific" philosophy. Henry alone 
refuses to surrender. A wily, experienced wrestler, 
returning again and again to grapple with the Time- 
Spirit, at the end of each bout he eludes the adver 
sary; and at the moment one expects to see him 
thrown, suddenly he has vanished, he has fled 
through centuries falling about him like autumn 
leaves, and from somewhere in the Middle Ages, 
near some old shrine of the Virgin, one hears the 
sound of mocking laughter. It is the free spirit, 
eternally seeking. 

Henry was, I think, a great man and the only 
great Adams of his generation. All the other 
Adamses had been men of action tinctured with 
letters. Henry alone definitely renounced action 
and turned the full current of the ancestral energy 
to letters. By so doing he established a new 
standard of achievement for the Adams line; and 
in consequence, of course, for the rest of us. Up 
to the time of the Civil War there had been for 
them but one field of glory, the political arena, and 
but one standard of achievement, national admin 
istration. After the war Charles Francis II tried 
to be great in "big business," but in the Adams sense 



308 AMERICANS 

"failed" because his culture was of no use there. 
Brooks tried for greatness in naturalistic philoso 
phy, but found that his creed ignobly reduced all 
heroes to automata. But Henry, without otherwise 
committing himself, sought to comprehend and to 
represent his world, and he achieved greatness. 
Like yet unlike his ancestors who were painted by 
Copley and Stuart, he is in the grand style. 

The Education of Henry Adams marks with 
precision the hour when its author became conscious 
of his variation. It was in England, towards the 
close of the war, where as secretary to his father 
he had exhausted all the excitements of the diplo 
matic "game," and London society had begun to 
pall, and loitering in Italy had ceased to charm, yet 
he was collecting bric-a-brac and sketches by the old 
masters and becoming attached to his habits and his 
hansom cabs, and was in a fair way to become one 
of those dilettantish, blase young Americans of the 
period, whom Henry James has preserved like 
pressed flowers for posterity. It was after Sir 
Charles Lyell and the evolutionists had set him off 
on a new quest for a "father" it mattered not, he 
said, "whether the father breathed through lungs, 
or walked on fins, or on feet." It was in that sum 
mer hour, characteristically marked by him with its 
picturesque accessories, when he had wandered to 
Wenlock Edge in Shropshire, and, throwing himself 
on the grass where he could look across the Marches 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 309 

to the mountains of Wales, thus meditated on the 
new theory: 

Natural selection seemed a dogma to be put in 
the place of the Athanasian creed; it was a form 
of religious hope; a promise of ultimate perfection. 
Adams wished no better; he warmly sympathized 
in the object; but when he came to ask himself what 
he truly thought, he felt that he had no Faith; that 
whenever the next new hobby should be brought out, 
he should surely drop off Darwinism like a monkey 
from a perch; that the idea of one Form, Law, 
Order, or Sequence had no more value for him than 
the idea of none; that what he valued most was 
Motion, and that what attracted his mind was 
Change. . . . Henry Adams was the first in an 
infinite series to discover and admit to himself that 
he really did not care that it should be proved true, 
unless the process were new and amusing. He was 
a Darwinian for fun. 

From that moment, literature was the one career 
for Henry, and all his overtures were failures till 
he discovered it. He returned to America, indeed, 
with the Emersonian resolution that "the current 
of his time was to be his current, lead where it 
might." He went to Washington, as a member of 
the governing class should do, and while waiting 
for an opportunity to serve the incoming administra 
tion of Grant, offered himself on long argumenta 
tive walks as the anvil for Sumner's hammer. The 
announcement of Grant's cabinet, however, as he 
explains the matter, closed for him the door of 



310 AMERICANS 

political opportunity. A revolution had taken place 
which had made him appear "an estray of the fif 
ties, a belated reveller, a scholar-gipsy." Coal, 
iron, and steam had supplanted agriculture, hand 
work, and learning. "His world was dead. Not a 
Polish Jew fresh from Warsaw or Cracow not a 
furtive Yaccob or Ysaac but had a keener instinct, 
an intenser energy and a freer hand than he 
American of Americans, with Heaven knew how 
many Puritans and Patriots behind him, and an 
education that had cost a civil war." And so Henry 
drifted into his antiquarian professorship at Har 
vard, cut loose from that and wrote his great his 
tory of Jefferson and Madison, and only returned 
to Washington to watch the spectacle, and to sit in 
his windows with John Hay, laughing at Presidents, 
and mocking the runner's heat. 

Where was the bold energy of the first and 
second Adams that broke down barred doors of 
opportunity and found a "charm" in contending 
against a powerful opposition? Transmuted by the 
accumulated culture of the Adams family education 
not wasted. The mockery and the pervasive 
irony, so seductive in The Education, spring 
from no sense of essentially depleted energy in the 
author; on the contrary, they have their origin in 
a really exuberant sense of spiritual superiority. 
Adams after Adams has seen himself outshone, in 
the popular estimate, by vulgar "democratical" men, 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 3 1 1 

by rising men of the "people," whom he has half 
or wholly despised by Franklin, by Paine, by Jef 
ferson, by Jackson, by Lincoln, by Grant. But 
when John Quincy was defeated by Jackson, though 
he thought God had abandoned America, he felt 
himself still high priest. And though Henry thought 
the progress of evolution from Washington to 
Grant sufficient to upset Darwin, and though he 
regarded Grant as a man who should have lived in 
a cave and worn skins, he reinstated Darwin in the 
next breath; for Henry Adams would not have 
changed places with Washington; he regarded 
Washington himself as but a cave man in compari 
son with Henry Adams ! 

In revulsion from a world bent on making twelve 
dividends of ten per cent in a year and spending 
them for it knew not what, the Adams energy in 
him had been diverted to the production of a human 
measure of civilization; to a register of the value 
of art and social life and manners and those other 
by-products of coal and iron which the Philistines 
of every age rate as superfluous things ; to a search, 
finally, to an inquiry all the way from Kelvin to the 
Virgin of Chartres, for some principle of Unity, for 
some overarching splendor to illumine the gray twi 
light of an industrial democracy. He did not find 
it, but the quest was glorious. 

Henry Adams was an egotist. Granted. But 
what an egotist! Not since Byron 



312 . AMERICANS 

bore 

With haughty scorn which mock'd the smart 
Through Europe to the Aetolian shore 
The pageant of his bleeding heart 

not since the days of "Childe Harold" have we had 
so superb an egotist in literature, so splendidly in 
revolt, so masterly in self-portraiture, so romanti 
cally posed among the lights and shadows of his 
tory, against the ruins of time. Let us forget and 
forgive the unfeeling cynic who inquired, "If a 
Congressman is a hog, what is a Senator?" Let 
us remember the poet who felt the "overpowering 
beauty and sweetness of the Maryland autumn" and 
the "intermixture of delicate grace and passionate 
depravity that marked the Maryland May." Let 
us fix our gaze on the Pilgrim receiving the news 
of the blowing up of the Maine as he watches the 
sun set across the Nile at Assouan: 

One leant on a fragment of column in the great 
hall at Karnak and watched a jackal creep down 
the debris of ruin. The jackal's ancestors had 
surely crept up the same wall when it was building. 
What was his view about the value of silence? One 
lay in the sands and watched the expression of the 
Sphinx. Brooks Adams had taught him that the 
relation between civilizations was that of trade. 
Henry wandered, or was storm-driven, down the 
coast. He tried to trace out the ancient harbor of 
Ephesus. He went over to Athens, picked up Rock- 
hill, and searched for the harbor of Tiryns; together 
they went on to Constantinople and studied the 
great walls of Constantine and the greater domes 



THE ADAMS FAMILY; 313 

of Justinian. His hobby had turned into a camel, 
and he hoped, if he rode long enough in silence, that 
at last he might come on a city of thought along the 
great highways of exchange. 

Though Henry Adams was "a Darwinian for 
fun," in his search for God he was as much in 
earnest as a man can be who sets out for a far 
country which he knows that he shall never reach. 
To him, as to his great-grandfather and his grand 
father before him, the tribal Jehovah created by 
the ancient Semitic imagination, the competitor of 
Baal and Astoreth, was a mythological abomination, 
surviving in the minds of those early New England 
pedants who had instigated the hanging of witches 
in Salem and the persecution of Quakers and Ana 
baptists. His ancestors, John and Abigail and John 
Quincy Adams, had entered into the religious en 
lightenment of the eighteenth century. But to him, 
a son of the mid-nineteenth century, the improved 
God of the Deists and the Unitarians the bland, 
just, and benevolent Providence of Franklin, Jeffer 
son and John Quincy Adams had become as obso 
lete and incredible as the more markedly vertebrate 
deity of Increase Mather's time. 

Those who read Henry Adams with inadequate 
sense of his irony may feel that the God whose laws 
he attempted to discover in his quest through con 
temporary science is not more real than the Provi 
dence of the Deists nor less dreadful than the 
Jehovah of the old theologians. That all-pervad- 



314 AMERICANS 

ing Power, blind but physically omnipotent, which 
attracted his mind, that Power which moves in 
thunder and earthquake, in the growth and decay 
of living forms, in the dynamo, the gun, the man- 
of-war, that Power worshipped by Carlyle and 
Bismarck and Disraeli and Roosevelt and all the 
"strong men" of recent history has neither feet to 
bring good tidings, nor bowels of compassion, nor 
countenance divine; and knees that have bowed at 
the foot of the Cross, hands that have clutched the 
robe of the Virgin, hearts that have cried out of 
their depths to a heavenly Father, turn uncomforted 
from Motion and Change enshrined, turn dismayed 
from the roaring whirlwinds of physical power as 
from an altar to an obscene Thing. 

But Henry Adams turned away, also and this 
is the mark of his greatness murmuring disdain 
fully, partly to himself and partly to the age which 
was soon to make ten millions of its sons pass 
through the fire to its Moloch: "Him whom ye 
ignorantly worship, the same declare I unto you. 
Your God himself, in the lapse of ages, has suf 
fered a degradation of energy." Henry Adams 
turned away from the shrine of the obscene Thing 
with a jest of invincible skepticism, and went on a 
long holiday through the Middle Ages, "wooing" 
the Virgin, incredulous to the end that the divine 
love should have been transformed and annihilated 
in the abysses of energy, seeking to the end for a 



THE ADAMS FAMILY 315 

clue to "a world that sensitive and timid natures 
could regard without a shudder." 

The bronze statue by St. Gaudens which in 1887 
Henry Adams caused to be erected, without inscrip 
tion, upon the grave of his wife in the Rock Creek 
Cemetery, in Washington, seems curiously to sym 
bolize the spirit and the fruit of his own pilgrimage. 
The strangely haunting figure, enveloped in heavy 
drapery, sits on a rough-hewn block of granite 
against a granite wall, the great limbs in repose, 
the right hand supporting the face, shadowed and 
almost invisible. Here at sunset, after long wan 
dering, the Pilgrim comes at last to the place where 
no answers are given; at the gateless wall ponders 
the mysteries, silent, passive, thinking without hope 
yet without despair : "Here restless minds and limbs 
of divine mold rest at last. This is the place of 
dust and shadow and the dispersion of all that was 
sweet and fair into the devouring tides of energy. 
This may be the end of all, forever and ever. If so, 
so be it." 

Thus that sombre figure appears to commune with 
itself; but so much will is manifest even in its repose, 
it seems so undefeated even in defeat, that the visi 
tor departs saying to himself: "Man is the animal 
that destiny cannot break." 



XII 



AN IMAGINARY CONVERSATION WITH 
MR. P. E. MORE 

American criticism, as I think Mr. Bliss Perry 
remarked a few years ago, has been singularly un 
sociable, reserved, and poor in personality. The 
academic critic delivers his discourse to his audience 
of ten or a hundred thousand people in the style 
of a surpliced clergyman reading a presidential 
proclamation in a great cathedral. Consequently he 
is not much impressed by them nor they by him. 
How to get the audience and the speaker in touch 
with one another is a question that needs to be 
treated; for the solitude which many of our most 
serious men of letters inhabit, their remoteness from 
stimulating living companionship, is like that of the 
inter-stellar spaces explored by the astronomer's 
telescope. Lately some of the young people have 
attempted a solution, which is not, I think, wholly 
satisfactory. In order to provoke some one to no 
tice them, to speak to them, if only to expose and 
flagellate them, they have banded themselves, like 
the Grub Street wits of old, into a league against 

316 



MR. P. E. MORE 317 

virtue and decorum and even against the grammar 
and idiom of English speech. 

Impudence is one mode of familiarity, and its 
vogue is increasing. But there are other ways to 
make literature affable and engaging which may be 
recommended to those whose talent for impudence 
is imperfectly developed. On my desk lies a tat 
tered volume of selections, six hundred pages of 
the Causeries du Lundi, which is like a circle of 
charming people conversing. It is intimate: many 
of the writers introduced in these delightful pages 
were contemporaries and personal friends of the 
author. Frequently Sainte-Beuve presents no formal 
treatment of their works. He does something for 
you which quickens your literary sensibilities as no 
formal analysis does: he admits you to the inner 
circle. He makes his writer live for you by dis 
solving his books and ideas back into the character 
and personality which they imperfectly expressed, 
and by then presenting you a speaking portrait, exe 
cuted with the appreciativeness, the gentle firmness, 
the candor, the affectionate malice of a friend who, 
from looking into your eyes year after year, has 
come to love the crow's feet that time and thought 
have etched around them. 

Mr. More, our American Sainte-Beuve, has 
painted an abundance of such portraits of celebri 
ties who are dead. But, like the students in the 
Royal Academy of Art in Sir Joshua's day, he has 
given little attention to drawing from the life. He 



318 AMERICANS 

has never, like Rossetti, gone to market before 
breakfast to paint a calf in a farmer's cart. In the 
hundred and sixteen Shelburne essays, there are only 
a dozen American subjects; and of these only four 
or five at the most can be called in any sense "con 
temporary." This proves, I think, a partial retro 
gression from the purpose indicated by the epigraph 
of his First Series: "Before we have an American 
literature, we must have an American criticism." 
Mr. More has written distinguished and important 
criticism in America for Americans apropos of Eng 
lish themes. But he has done too little to meet his 
poor living fellow-countrymen half way ; and to give 
and to receive the recognitions which are among the 
functions and the rewards of letters. He has not 
done as much as he might have done to establish 
a place for easy colloquial intercourse at some point 
between the news-papering reading public and that 
hermit's retreat of his with the Sanskrit inscription 
above the door. 

For this reason, I welcome, as a token of amend 
ment, his preface to his recent volume on The Wits. 
Mr. More has not the prefatory habit. It is his 
custom to plunge in med'ias res, like an epic poet or 
a member of the Modern Language Association. 
But here, like a man of this world, he begins with 
a preface, affable, familiar, charming, provocative. 
He chats about the way he composed these essays 
that was before he withdrew from New York to 
Princeton in order that his children might grow up 



MR. P. E. MORE 319 

among the English-speaking peoples through the 
strenuous years in New York, when a Sunday dinner 
broke up his one precious day of "scholarly leisure," 
and, when, as critic, he wrote for immortality with 
one hand what, as editor of The Nation, he ruth- 
Issly abridged with the other. He pleasantly dis 
cusses the vices and foibles of reviewers ; and so by 
insensible degrees he passes to the prevailing foibles 
and vices of man; and thence to the present and 
perennial need for satire. 

If I understand him aright, he intimates that the 
unifying spirit of this book is a hope that it will 
"vex somebody." It has vexed me sharply at some 
points and pleased me much at others, as everything 
that he writes does. I shall explain my pleasure 
and my vexation with that freedom which I learned 
from him and from his equally independent prede 
cessor, Hammond Lamont, two editors, who taught 
their reviewers to fear nothing but deviations from 
the truth and the insidious vices of puffery and log 
rolling. Of the terrible integrity of that office I 
fondly cherish one recollection. I had sent in it 
was long ago a very "pleasant" review of an 
amusing novel by an author who, as I happened to 
know, was an old friend of the editor; and I added 
a note to the effect that, though the book had some 
defects, it seemed not worth while to speak of them 
in so brief a notice. Back came the proof, inscribed 
in Mr. Lamont's bold hand, with the only suggestion 
that he ever made for an alteration in my copy. 



320 AMERICANS 

"You had better give it," he said, "the full measure 
of damnation." Mr. More, as all contributors and 
authors know, sustained the great tradition. 

An inheritor of the high mission of damnation 
does not fluently mix with the various literary adu 
lation societies of the metropolis. To a man of 
Mr. More's internal preoccupations the great city 
offers in vain that life which impresses the eye of a 
Maupassant from Texas as so rich and various. 
Her highway pageantry, her chirping slopes of 
Helicon, her "colorful" coast of Bohemia, her 
swarming literary proletariat, leave him as cold as 
Nineveh and Babylon. And so Mr. More does not 
conceal from us that he is happier since he left 
New York. There are more days in a Princeton 
week. There is more leisure in a Princeton chair. 
A man of immense intellectual possessions, he has 
from the outset manifested a marked predilection 
for literary society in the grand style ; to have much 
of which, one must choose one's avenue and resi 
dence. I conceive the Shelburne essays, to which 
he adds a wing year after year, as a many-cham 
bered mansion, conspicuously withdrawn from the 
public highway, built and maintained for the recep 
tion of Indian sages, Greek philosophers, great 
poets, moralists, scholars, statesmen, and other 
guests from the Elysian Fields, who, but for his 
lordly pleasure-house, would be hard put to it for a 
resting place when, of a week-end, they revisit the 
glimpses of the moon. Let us be thankful we 



MR. P. E. MORE 321 

academic cottagers, we journalistic occupants of 
three-rooms-and-a-bath let us be thankful for an 
intellectual capitalist or so with means and inclina 
tion to entertain these shadowy ambassadors from 
other ages, and so to establish for our undistin 
guished democratic society fruitful and inspiring 
relations with the deathless grand monde of an 
tiquity. 

If W. D. Howells was the dean of our fiction, 
Mr. More is the bishop of our criticism. His classi 
cal and Oriental scholarship, his reverence for tra 
dition, his reasoned conservatism, his manner, a 
little austere at first contact, and his style, pure and 
severely decorous, all become the office. By the 
serenity of his pleasure in letters and the life of the 
mind he recalls those substantially happy old church 
men-scholars of the eighteenth century, Warton and 
Percy and Warburton ; by the range of his deep and 
difficult reading he suggests Coleridge, to whose 
intellectual dissoluteness, however, his intellectual 
organization and concentration are antithetical; by 
his aloofness from the spirit of the hour and its 
controversies he reminds one of Landor, striving 
with none, because none is worth his strife; by his 
touch of mystic ardor and his sustained moral inten 
sity and philosophic seriousness, he belongs with 
Savonarola and the great French ecclesiastics of the 
seventeenth century. One may visualize him in 
these later years, since his retirement from editorial 
duties, as sitting in external and internal placidity 



322 AMERICANS 

under a pallid bust of Pallas in a commodious 
library, learnedly annotating in fine small hand an 
interleaved edition of Plato, or poring with a read 
ing glass over the Greek folio of Origen, or perhaps 
quite lost to the world in the wide wilderness of 
Leo XIII's Aquinas. 

Men with such companions are less solitary than 
they seem. Upon a scholarly leisure so austerely 
industrious, you and I would not lightly venture to 
intrude, even though we had heard that after a week 
with St. Augustine Mr. More enjoys a Saturday 
evening with a tale of Anna Katherine Green; or 
will good-humoredly meet the Princeton pundits and 
Bluestockings at a rubber of bridge, bringing to the 
solution of its problems the logical rigor of Duns 
Scotus and the transcendental insight of Plotinus. 
On another night, at tea-time or after, Samuel John 
son would not hesitate to stumble in, and, stretching 
his great legs towards the fire, challenge Mr. Henry 
Holt's views of Patience Worth and the ouija 
board, or summon Mr. More to a defence of the 
thesis, somewhat wearily stoical, which he has 
carved in tall Greek letters across the wide face of 
his mantel shelf a thesis of which this is the gist: 
"Man's affairs are really of small consequence, but 
one must act as if they were, and this is a burden." 
Later in the evening one can imagine that saturated 
student of Queen Anne's time, Professor Trent, 
completing the semi-circle; and then the three of 
them, confirmed Tories all three, joining in an ami- 



MR. P. E. MORE 323 

able but heated altercation on the merits of Milton 
and Defoe, or more harmoniously discussing, judg 
ing, and gossiping over the "wits" of tavern and 
coffee-house whom Mr. More has gathered into his 
latest volume: first, Beaumont and Fletcher, Hali 
fax, Mrs. Behn, Swift, Pope, Lady Mary, Berkeley, 
the Duke of Wharton, Gray; and then, more sum 
marily, those golden bugs, those "decadent" fellows 
who wore the green carnation and sipped absinthe 
for coffee between the reign of Wilde and the reign 
of G. B. Shaw. 

It is good literary talk better is not to be heard 
in these degenerate days. It is talk now grave, now 
gay, richly allusive and erudite and deliciously sea 
soned with malice "at every word a reputation 
dies." For the host, quoting Samuel Butler, has 
given his guests this note: "There is nothing that 
provokes and sharpens wit like malice." What a 
lurking whig or a modern Democrat or a Romanti 
cist would miss, if he were eavesdropping there, is 
a clash of fundamental belief and theory. Professor 
Trent may differ tenaciously on a nice point, such 
as the circumstantial evidence in the case of Lady 
Mary's virtue. But as to the apriori evidence they 
are all in substantial agreement; they accept with 
a dreadful Calvinistic accord man's natural predis 
position to evil. They all applaud the wits for say 
ing so sovereignly well those infamous things about 
human nature, which, alas, every now and then, 
human nature deserves to hear. They all speak sus- 



324 AMERICANS 

piciously and derogatively of the mobile vulgus. 
And they fail, as nearly every militant classicist 
does, to recognize the "grand style" in Shakespeare, 
though, as Mr. More's favorite abomination, Pro 
fessor Saintsbury truly says, the heretic has but to 
open the plays anywhere and read fifty lines, and 
the grand style will smite him in the face, "as God's 
glory smote Saint Stephen." Mr. More, receding 
from the position taken in the second series, now 
admits, indeed, that the greater plays are in their 
substance "profoundly classic," which is as much 
as one ever extorts from a defender of the Acropo 
lis; but he clings to his heresy in the case of Romeo 
and Juliet, ranking its exquisite symphonies of mean 
ing and music below the ethical plain-song of the 
Hippolytus. 

We are interrupting better talk than our own. 
"Stay, stay," as the German visitor exclaimed on 
another occasion, "Toctor Shonson is going to say 
something." 

"Sir," cries the Doctor, dashing at "P. E. M." 
with brutal downrightness, "in your essay on a Blue 
stocking of the Restoration, you have applied a vile 
phrase to Congreve. You have done an injustice to 
Congreve by coupling him with Wycherley and Mrs. 
Behn as 'wallowing contentedly in nastiness.' A 
critic should exert himself to distinguish the colors 
and shades of iniquity. Wycherley splashed through 
the filth of his time like a gross wit. Mrs. Behn 
dabbled in it like a prurient and truckling wit. Swift, 



MR. P. E. MORE 325 

indeed, wallowed in it, not contentedly but morosely, 
truculently, like a mad wit. But Congreve picked 
his way through it disdainfully, like a fastidious 
wit." 

"But did you not," inquires Mr. More, "in your 
Lives of the Poets, remark that the perusal of Con- 
greve's works will make no man better?" 

"True," retorts the Doctor, "but I acknowledged 
that I knew nothing of Congreve's plays. Years 
had passed since I had read them. I am better 
acquainted with them now. Sir, in the Elysian 
Fields, Hazlitt, Thackeray, and Meredith, your 
best judges of wit and the beauties of English prose, 
converse with the members of my Literary Club in 
the language of Congreve. Conversational English 
reached its height in Congreve. In my days of 
nature, I did him at least the justice of recording 
that he could name among his friends every man 
of his times, Whig and Tory alike, whom wit and 
elegance had raised to reputation. A man who 
wallows in filth does not win universal esteem. No, 
sir, Congreve was an acute critic, a man of taste, 
and a fine gentleman, a very fine gentleman. In 
your next edition you must retrieve your blunder of 
representing the patrician wit of the Restoration as 
wallowing in nastiness." 

"I will make a note of it," says Mr. More with 
an audible sigh of regret. For, to tell the plain 
truth, Mr. More values the writers of the Resto 
ration chiefly for their wickedness. It is such good 



326 AMERICANS 

ammunition to use on the humanitarian enthusiasts 
and the whitewashes of human nature. He can 
forgive Pope his virulent personal satire, but not 
his deistic optimism. He praises Swift above Pope 
for his consistent adherence to the representation 
of his fellows as "the most pernicious race of little 
odious vermin ever suffered to crawl upon the face 
of the earth." He requires, or thinks he requires, 
the Yahoos as hideous caryatydes to uphold the 
towering superstructure of his aristocratic political 
and social philosophy. 

"Cheer up, More," interposes Professor Trent 
jocosely; "don't let the loss of Congreve shake your 
beautiful faith in human depravity. The Doctor 
allows that Congreve was a rare bird, a very phoe 
nix. I'll tell you a Yahoo friend of Defoe's that 
you can put in his place. Swift knew his English 
people. For my part, give me the Turks." 

A belief in the baseness of average human nature 
is, as I have said, something that Mr. More requires 
as a builder requires a basement, not expecting to 
live in it. Despite his profession of love for Pope, 
I suspect he has little more fellow-feeling for the 
sad wags of Anne's time or of Victoria's than Mil 
ton had for his kitchen-folk. When Professor 
Trent and Doctor Johnson grow weary of impaling 
ghosts on epigrams and are packed off to a night 
cap and to bed, one can fancy P. E. M. returning 
to the library to recover possession of his soul. 
Extinguishing the lights, he sinks into his easy chair, 



MR. P. E. MORE 327 

and watches for a time the flickers of his expiring 
fire, fingering the dusky folios, while the Princeton 
chimes announce the midnight, and silence envelops 
that quaint little imitation English city, striving so 
bravely amid the New Jersey oil refineries to be a 
home of lost causes and to dream, under the Cleve 
land memorial tower, like the Oxford of 1830. As 
he meditates there in the fitful gloaming by the 
hearthside Mr. More is one of the last of the 
meditative men the gossip and scandal of the eve 
ning's talk rise from his mind like a phantasmal 
smoke, in which the huge illusory bulk of Johnson 
appears but a whirling eddy in knee-buckles and the 
slighter form of Professor Trent but a momentary 
shape in frock coat, floating wisp-like heavenwards. 
From his mood of recreative dissipation "P. E. 
M." passes into his mood of critical self-collection; 
thence, into his mood of philosophic contemplation; 
and so to his mood of mystical insight, in which 
space and time, like insubstantial figments of the 
imagination, dissolve and mingle with the smoke 
and the Professor and the Doctor, and drift up the 
flue into night and nothingness. "Such stuff as 
dreams are made of," murmurs the mystic, in a 
mood like that in which Carlyle saw through the 
transparent body of Louis XVI the Merovingian 
kings wending on their ox-carts into eternity. A 
chill pervades the still air of the study. Into the 
vacant chairs glide one by one the quiet ghosts 
of Henry More, the Platonist, and Sir Thomas 



328 AMERICANS 

Browne, for whom Oblivion scattered her poppy in 
vain, and Cudworth rising from his tomb in The 
True Intellectual System of the Universe, and pale 
John Norris of Bemerton, wafted thither by a pas 
sion of loneliness from his dim prison in The 
Theory of an Ideal World. There is no sound of 
greeting; but the five silent figures commune to 
gether in perfect felicity on That Which Endureth 
Forever. They speak not a word, yet they under 
stand one another by a mere interpenetration of 
their beings. . . . And when the Northern Wag 
goner has set his sevenfold team behind the stead 
fast star, and Chaunticlere warns erring spirits to 
their confines, "P. E. M." rouses himself from his 
deep trance, and says to himself, softly under his 
breath, "Hodie vixi to-day I have lived!" 

After two cups of coffee and a bit of toast, he 
goes to his desk and, without haste or rest, sets to 
work upon what? A man who keeps such com 
pany and lives such an internal life should write his 
memoirs, a new Biographia Literaria, a philosophi 
cal autobiography. Such a book from Mr. More, 
delivering in his pure grave style a continuous narra 
tive of the travels and voyages of his spirit from 
Shelburne, New Hampshire, by way of India to 
ancient Athens, making all ports which for storm- 
tossed sailors trim their lamps, such a narrative, 
plangent through all its reserves with nostalgia for 
the infinite, would be of unique interest and value 
to us, complementing the spiritual adventures of 



MR. P. E. MORE 329 

Henry Adams, and deepening the resonance of 
American letters. 

But Mr. More, returning to his desk, either con 
tinues his history of Neo-Platonism, which I wish 
he could leave to a scholar with no autobiography 
to write, or else which fills me with "malice" he 
supplants that great work by a Shelburne essay on 
Aphra Behn. This "pilgrim of the infinite" what 
has Aphra to do with him, or he with Aphra ? But 
what is a Shelburne essay? It is generally an im 
perfect, fragmentary cross-section, sometimes only 
the outer bark of a cross-section, of the character 
and personality which I have been sketching. It is 
criticism, it is history, it is philosophy, it is morality, 
it is religion, it is, above all, a singularly moving 
poetry, gushing up from deep intellectual and 
moral substrata, pure, cold, and refreshing, as water 
of a spring from the rocks in some high mountain 
hollow. This poetry of ideas was abundant in the 
first and the sixth series of the Shelburne essays 
and was nearly continuous in some of the single 
essays like The Quest of a Century in the third and 
Victorian Literature in the seventh. By its compres 
sion of serious thought and deep feeling it produces 
an effect as of one speaking between life and death, 
as the Apology of Socrates does. There is a pulse 
in the still flow of it, as if it had been stirred once 
and forever at the bottom of the human heart. It 
is for this poetry that we love Mr. More. But one 
has to go so far for it! In the long series, it is so 



330 AMERICANS 

intermittent! There is so much territory through 
which it does not flow. 

A young friend of mine who takes his world 
through his pores, little experienced in literary ex 
ploration, unable to discover the spring, announced 
to me, after a brush with the "wits," that the essays 
are "dry." He is mistaken. A Shelburne essay is 
not infrequently, however, astonishingly difficult. 
Mr. More has not attended to the technique of 
ingratiation by which a master of popularity plays 
upon an unready public with his personality, flatter 
ing, cajoling, seducing it to accept his shadow before 
his substance arrives. He takes so little pains, I 
will not say to be liked but to be comprehended, 
that I sometimes wonder whether he has ever 
broadly considered the function of criticism in a 
democracy as different as ours is from that in 
Athens. He writes as if unaware that our General 
Reading Public is innocent of all knowledge of the 
best that has been said and thought in the world. 
He writes at least half the time as if he contem 
plated an audience of Trents, Coleridges, Johnsons, 
and Casaubons. 

Let me illustrate. Occasionally he will give you 
some paragraph of literary history as plain as a 
biographical dictionary and as dry as, let us say in 
deference to Mr. Mencken, as dry as a professor 
of English. But of a sudden, in a harmless-looking 
essay, say that on the eighteenth century dilettante, 
William Beckford, you, if a plain man, stumble and 



MR. P. E. MORE 331 

lose your footing over "the law of autarkeia, the 
perception of the veritable infinite within harmoni 
ous self-completeness which was the great gift of 
the Greeks to civilization" ; and down you go whirl 
ing headlong into the bottomless pitfall and abyss of 
a discussion of the difference between the Oriental 
and the Occidental sentiment towards the infinite 
and towards personality, while Hinduism, Semitism, 
Alexandrianism, Platonism, and the Gnostic and 
Manichean heresies rush past you with the flash and 
roar of the wheels within wheels that dazzled 
Ezekiel when the heavens were opened and he saw 
"visions of God" and "my word," as Mr. Drink- 
water's Lincoln would say, what a God I You are, 
it is true, brought out of that headlong plunge into 
the unfathomable, as a skilful sky-pilot brings you 
out of a "nose spin," or as a dentist brings you out 
of the gyrations of a nitrous oxid trance; and you 
hear Mr. More at your side quietly, suavely assur 
ing you that now you understand "why Goethe 
curtly called romanticism disease and classicism 
health." Maybe you do; but it is not by reason of 
your ride behind him on the Gnostic nightmare. 
What passed in that flight is only a shade more 
intelligible to you than a Chinese incantation. Your 
education was imperfect: you are neither a Cole 
ridge nor a Cudworth. 

"Perverse as it seems to say so," remarked Mat 
thew Arnold in reply to Professor Newman's 
charge that he was ignorant, "I sometimes find my- 



332 AMERICANS 

self wishing, when dealing with these matters of 
poetical criticism, that my ignorance were even 
greater than it is." How often one wishes that Mr. 
More would steal an hour from the study of Neo- 
Platonism to meditate on that paradoxical utter 
ance! How often one wishes that Mr. More's 
ignorance were far, far greater than it is. With 
many of Arnold's fundamental intentions in criti 
cism he is profoundly sympathetic; but he has 
never, as it appears to me, felt in a compelling way 
the Englishman's passion for diffusing his ideas, for 
making them "prevail," for carrying them from one 
end of society to the other. He has never taken 
adequately to heart Arnold's true and memorable 
description of the "great men of culture." They 
are those, Arnold declares, "who have labored to 
divest knowledge of all that was harsh, uncouth, 
difficult, abstract, professional, exclusive; to human 
ise it, to make it efficient outside the clique of the 
cultivated and learned, yet still remaining the best 
knowledge and thought of the time, and a true 
source, therefore, of sweetness and light." 

When I ask myself why "P. E. M." has not taken 
these words more obviously home, why he writes so 
exclusively for the r 'clique of the cultivated and 
learned," I come invariably to one conclusion, 
namely, that his interest in the uncultivated and un 
learned is horribly chilly, is not much livelier, in 
fact, than his master Plato's concern for the Helots, 
who are silently to bear on their shoulders the bur- 



MR. P. E. MORE 333 

den and splendor of the Athenian Republic; is not 
much warmer than his master Burke's concern for 
the driver of oxen, the carpenter, and work-master, 
who are not to be sought for in counsel, but are 
"to maintain the state of the world." When I con 
sider how rich "P. E. M." is in the very wisdom 
which our democratic populace needs and vaguely 
desires, and when I observe how persistently he 
repels the advances of the vulgar by flinging a hand 
ful of political and social icicles in their faces, I wish 
from the bottom of my heart that he had loved 
the exclusive, metaphysical, aristocratic Plato less 
and the hobnobbing, inquisitive, realistic, democratic 
Socrates more. 

If Socrates were among us to-day, I am convinced 
that he would be leader of the Democrats in the 
House ; but Plato, I suspect, would be a member of 
the Senate from Massachusetts. Having Plato as 
his monitor, Mr. More sides politically and socially 
with the little group of Americans who hold that 
there are only half a dozen great families, all in the 
Republican party, capable of governing and guiding 
the destinies of the United States. Though they 
may pass without question for "good" citizens, dis 
tinguished and patriotic, they have never accepted 
one characteristic word that Jefferson wrote into the 
political Scriptures of the American nation; they 
have never felt one generous throb of the faith, 
regenerative and sustaining and uniting, which Jef 
ferson poured broadcast upon the spirit of the 



334 AMERICANS 

American people faith in the sense and virtue of 
the community and in the sense and virtue of the 
majority of its components. 

With Socrates as his guide through the modern 
world, "P. E. M." might have left his library and 
have broken from the circle of his Immortals, to 
stand on one leg and grow wise in the market-place. 
He might have suppled and vulgarized his tongue 
to chat with the work-master and carpenter and the 
driver of oxen who have had an American educa 
tion and have fought under the American flag from 
Verdun to Archangel for, as they thought or hoped, 
an American democratic faith. He might have 
fallen in with the young carpenter, cited for gal 
lantry in the Argonne, who is repairing my roof; 
or with another, concealing a Carnegie medal, who 
built me a tolerable bookcase after saving, single- 
handed, seventeen lives in a fire. He might have 
met with a Northern peasant farmer of my ac 
quaintance who, after recounting the hardships of 
his winter work in the absence of his eldest son, 
said to me, with a smile as profoundly philosophical 
as anything in Epictetus: "Well, I suppose that is 
what we are here for." He might have read the 
halting, ill-spelled letters of that stalwart eldest son 
who, while breaking mules for the Expeditionary 
Force in France, wrote to his old mother with a 
filial piety as beautiful as anything that Mr. More 
commends in Pope. 

If he had enjoyed opportunities such as these 



MR. P. E. MORE 335 

somehow he seems always to have evaded them he 
would have recognized with dismay that Swift and 
the wits have coarsely libeled the mobile vulgus and 
have deceived him about its capacities and tenden 
cies. He would have discovered in the average man 
along with healthy self-interest, petty vices, and 
envy enough to keep him stirring courage, forti 
tude, sobriety, kindness, honesty, and sound practi 
cal intelligence. If he could have pressed critically 
into the matter, he would have discovered some 
thing even more surprising. He would have learned 
that the average man is, like himself, at heart a 
mystic, vaguely hungering for a peace that diplo 
mats cannot give, obscurely seeking the permanent 
amid the transitory; a poor swimmer struggling for 
a rock amid the flux of waters, a lonely pilgrim 
longing for the shadow of a mighty rock in a weary 
land. And if "P. E. M." had a bit more of that 
natural sympathy of which he is so distrustful, he 
would have perceived that what more than anything 
else to-day keeps the average man from lapsing into 
Yahooism is the religion of democracy, consisting 
of a little bundle of general principles which make 
him respect himself and his neighbor; a bundle of 
principles kindled in crucial times by an intense emo 
tion, in which his self-interest, his petty vices, and 
his envy are consumed as with fire; and he sees the 
common weal as the mighty rock in the shadow of 
which his little life and personality are to be sur- 



336 AMERICANS 

rendered, if need be, as things negligible and 
transitory. 

I am speaking of the average man and traits of 
his which I can never contemplate, being one my 
self, without a lift of the heart; and I frankly avow 
that it vexes me to hear this emotion which does so 
much to keep us average men from weariness, and 
from the devastating cynicism of the wits, and the 
horrid ennuis of the great, and from their sense that 
the affairs of men are really of small consequence 
it vexes me to hear this emotion dismissed as fatu 
ous democratic self-complacency. 

But even as I write these words, I seem to hear 
Mr. More, in an accent slightly eighteenth century, 
exclaiming, not without asperity, yet rather in pity 
than in anger: "Sir, I perceive that you are a vile 
Whig!" 

To which I reply, not without animation, yet 
more in affection than in malice: "Sir, I perceive 
that you are a stubborn Tory 1" 

"Sir," says Mr. More, "I am obliged to lean a 
bit backward to counterbalance the vileness of your 
Whiggery." 

"And, sir," I conclude, "I am obliged to lean a bit 
forward to counterbalance the stubbornness of your 
Toryism." 



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